The Story of the Famous Pitts Special Aerobatic Plane

The airplane model featured in this article has won more aerobatic contests than any other aircraft in the U.S. Today the plane still remains a powerful competitor. The Pitts Special S1 is one of the most famous airplanes in civilian aircraft history. It has performed at more air shows than any other type of aerobatic aircraft.

pitts special plane

Pitts Special Aerobatic Plane

The Pitts Special aerobatic planes were designed by Curtiss Pitts and took to the air in 1944. Pitts built a limited number of planes and two models were built from the original model. These were a one-seater called the S-1 and a two-seater called the S-2.

A Rough Beginning Followed by Recognition

When Curtiss Pitts set put to build an airplane, the intention was to build only one for himself.The trouble is, when a airplane you build performs so good, word spreads. The face of aerobatic flying was changed forever when Pitts built his first plane. That plane today is one of the most recognized American built aerobatic airplane.

The first plane built by Pitts which had a home built inverted fuel system was destroyed in a crash. In 1946, Curtiss Pitts received an order for ten of his planes but before they could be delivered the purchaser filed for bankruptcy. At that time only one plane was completed and it was eventually sold to a Miami, Florida firm called World Air Shows.

pitts special s 1

Pitts Special S-1

As it turned out, this sale of only one Pitts Special to World Air Shows would help achieve world wide recognition for this remarkable aircraft. The plane that World Air Shows purchased would be flown by a young aerobatic pilot named Betty Skelton.

Betty Skelton who was later called “The fastest woman on earth“, flew the Pitts Special to several competitive wins. Skelton won the National Aerobatics Championship three times. She was the first woman to attempt the “inverted ribbon cut,” in which she would fly upside down only ten feet off the ground, slicing a ribbon with her propeller of her Pitts Special. Betty Skelton twice set light-plane altitude records, attaining an atitude of 29,050 feet in a Piper Cub in 1951. Even though the planes engine exploded during flight Skelton achieved an unofficial women’s air speed record of 421 mph in a P-51 Mustang.

Later, Betty Skelton worked in advertising and test driving Corvettes. Skelton held the honor of being the first woman to drive a Pace Car at the Daytona 500.

See these additional Trips Into History articles on the links below…

Heathkit Home Built Airplanes

Some of the Best Western U.S. Air Museums

The USS Midway / San Diego’s Premiere Attraction

From our Western Trips site see...Wiley Post and His Record Setting Lockheed Vega Airplane

An excellent book to add to your reading list is …Pitts Specials: Curtiss Pitts and his Legendary Biplanes by author Budd Davisson. There are also several books for youngsters regarding Betty Skelton which you may find interesting. One of these is titled, Daredevil: The Daring Life of Betty Skelton by author Meghan McCarthy.

The Pitts Special Specifications

The Pitts Special had a Lycoming 180 HP engine.

Maximum speed was rated at 176 MPH with a range of 315 miles.

Upper wingspan measured 17 ft 4 in. Length 15 ft 5 in and height 6 ft 3 in.

Gross weight was 1,148 lbs. Service ceiling was 22,300 ft.

The Pitts Special Legend

Homebuilt planes were built from the original plans sold by Pitts who later sold more refined technical plans starting in the 1960′s. Curtis Pitts left perhaps the biggest mark on aerobatics and air shows with his innovative airplane designs.

The International Council of Air Shows Foundation says this about the Pitts planes…From the first prototype to the hundreds of Pitts Specials that have performed at air shows over the last half century to the design ideas taken from the Pitts Special and integrated into today’s high-performance monoplanes, much of what air show flying is all about today can be traced back to the Pitts Special”. All Pitts one and two seat planes designed can be traced directly back to the Pitts Special of 1944.

It’s been said that Curtiss Pitts didn’t invent aerobatics or small planes. He also didn’t invent bi-planes. What Curtiss Pitts achieved was to mold all of these together into what today is the art of modern aerobatics.

curtiss pitts aerobatic plane

Curtiss Pitts, an aviation pioneer, died at his home in Homestead, Florida in June 2005.

As of this writing, a sample list of several museums around the U.S. where Pitts Specials are on display include…The National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C….The San Diego Automobile Museum in San Diego, CA…The Pacific Coast Air Museum in Santa Rosa, CA and the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, PA. There are more displays plus you’ll likely see a Pitt Special or two when attending your local air show.

betty skelton

Betty Skelton Frankman

Please note that there is also a Betty Skelton collection at the National Air and Space Museum.

Betty Skelton began flying airplanes at the age of twelve years and as mentioned above won many titles in the Pitts Special. After Skelton’s retirement from aviation, she joined Chevrolet with their development of the popular and unique fiberglass Corvette. Betty Skelton also set several records behind the wheel of the Chevy Corvette.

(Article and photos copyright 2015 Trips Into History. Betty Skelton Frankman photo in the Public Domain)

Visit the Historic Seeley Stable Museum / Old Town San Diego

seeley stable old town san diego

Old Town San Diego is really a must stop if your travels take you to this beautiful southern California city. There are several historic attractions in Old Town. One of those is the Seeley Stables which tell a excellent story about the very early days of San Diego. The Seeley Stables Museum can be found at 2630 Calhoun Street in Old Town.

seeley stable old town san diego

Seeley Stable, Old Town San Diego

Seeley Stable was used to stable horses and house stagecoaches. Seeley’s Stable would repair and make ready carriages. It would store and board horses and mules and offer rentals. When horse drawn transportation was a necessity, the stable was one of the more important businesses in town.

Albert Seeley also happened to operate a stagecoach line between Old Town San Diego and Los Angeles.

Old Town San Diego is a California Historical Park. Most of the historic structures are arrayed around the town square or plaza. When you stroll around the plaza you’ll find the Seeley Stables located adjacent to the Cosmopolitan Hotel, the oldest surviving building in San Diego. The hotel opened in 1869.

concord stagecoach san diego old town

Seeley’s San Diego to Los Angeles Stagecoach

Visiting the Seeley Stables Museum

The original Seeley Stable which was built circa 1869 was demolished in 1920.

The stables were reconstructed in 1974 using the same wood that was on the original stable.

The stables house a fine collection of 19th-century overland transportation gear and vehicles, including a carreta (an ox-drawn cart), mud wagon. The collection includes a Concord stage and a large  two-wagon freighter. Most of these original wagons and carriages were given to California State parks by Roscoe E. Hazard, a former rancher and retired highway contractor. The story of the wagons and their uses is told  with signs and stories of the past also exhibited in the stables.

One thing you’ll take back from this museum visit is a good understanding of how stables used to operate and the importance that they played in everyday lives. This is a free museum which covers two floors of what had been the old Seeley Stable.

The first floor is mainly a display of the types of wagons and coaches over various decades. The second floor exhibits items that would be found in the stables, on cowboys of the period, and Native American historical pieces.

The Seeley Stage Line

California’s first stage lines began at the time of the Gold Rush. They connected towns like  Sacramento to San Francisco, San Francisco with San Jose and several others.

Although railroads certainly did take their toll on local stage lines, San Diego didn’t find itself immediately on a rail line and the stagecoach business there lasted some time after others had ceased or greatly curtailed operations.

As mentioned above, Albert Seeley operated a stage line between San Diego and Los Angeles. This line opened in 1871. At the start the stagecoach and freighting business was in demand. Albert Seeley expanded his services by contracting with Wells Fargo for a route between San Diego and the gold mines in Cuyamacas as well as a route between Julien and San Bernardino.  The line was 130 miles in length. California is a big state and during this era  travel time between communities could be measured in days, not minutes.

The photo above is of an original stagecoach from that line. It is on display in the Seeley Stable Museum in Old Town.

authentic wells fargo stage

Authentic Wells Fargo Concord Stagecoach in Old Town

The Seeley Stage left San Diego at 5A and stopped for the night in San Juan Capistrano. The stagecoach would arrive in Los Angeles at 4P the following day.

The stage line eventually went out of business primarily due to the railroad. Seeley’s stage line ceased running the San Diego-Los Angeles route in 1887 but continued with a local San Diego-Ocean Beach route

The All Important Freight Line

If passengers were transported by stagecoaches then freight would be transported by freight wagons. Railroads would go on to take a lot of business from the freighters but the local freighters would still hang on for years.

See the Trips Into History articles on the links below…

The Wells Fargo Concord Stagecoach / Photos and History

The Vortexes of Sedona Arizona / Where to Find Them

Your La Jolla California Getaway

Reasons You’ll Enjoy a Rocky Mountain Vacation

san diego wells fargo museum

Wells Fargo Museum, Old Town

Visiting Old Town San Diego

A visit to Old Town San Diego is a must stop when touring this beautiful west coast city.

Old Town San Diego is located north of the downtown district of San Diego but was the site of the original settlement.

Touring Old Town is a lot of fun. Most of the shops and historic structures are located around a plaza. Some of these are original adobe structures. Along with the historic structures, some housing unique museums, there are several choices for dining whether it be breakfast, lunch or dinner. Entertainment is also offered at some venues.

As mentioned earlier, Old Town San Diego is a State Historic Park. Current posted hours are daily 10A-5P and admission is free.

(Article and photos copyright Trips Into History)

 

 

Drive the High Road To Taos / NM Road Trips

chimayo new mexico shrine

The High Road to Taos is a great scenic drive in northern New Mexico and a culturally rich drive. This part of New Mexico is an artist mecca and it’s also a great side trip while visiting either Santa Fe or Taos.

rancho de taos mission

Mission in Rancho de Taos

A 56 Mile Scenic Drive

The High Road to Taos drive is 56 miles in total length as it winds it’s way along the Sangre de Cristo Mountains between Santa Fe and Taos. Your drive will take you through art communities and it’s unique galleries as well as through Native American villages.

The south end of this drive begins at the intersection of US Hwy 285/84 and NM 503, about 17 miles north of Santa Fe. The northern end of this route is at Rancho de Taos where NM 518 meets NM 68. Most New Mexican’s however consider the end to be at the San Francisco de Asis Mission church which is in Rancho de Taos. Any road trip in northern New Mexico promises to be a scenic adventure with incredible photo opportunities, and the High Road to Taos is a perfect example.

truchas new mexico

Art gallery in remote Truchas, NM

A Culture Rich Scenic Drive

You’ll find that the High Road to Taos is dotted with towns, some quite small, that tell the story of the early years of Spanish rule. You may find that the local dialect is distinctive, and many area residents can claim ancestors who settled the towns in the 18th century.

The Spaniards left New Mexico (Nuevo Mexico) in about 1821 as a result of the Mexican Revolution. Mexico maintained rule until1846 when the U.S. took control during the Mexican American War.

Galleries Along the High Road to Taos

Many of the tourists who travel this road remark how remote these towns are. Some of these quaint high desert towns are geographically remote yet at the same time feature .  unique art galleries. You’ll find that the authentic quality of New Mexican artwork is alive and well there and rival the galleries in Santa Fe and Taos. Artists have been inspired by the remarkable scenery along the High Road to Taos route.

This area of northern New Mexico receives it’s share of snow and cold weather. That’s one of the reasons that ski slopes in Santa Fe and Taos attract so many winter tourists. Some, not all, of the galleries along the High Road to Taos also stay open year round.

The High Road Art Tour

One special time along this famous route is during the last half of September. This is the time of the “High Road Art Tour‘ which takes place the last two weekends every September.

The High Road Art Tour gives you the opportunity to deal directly with the artists as well as to visit the tiny, historic Spanish Land Grant villages along the way. You’ll be able to browse multiple crafts and all types of traditional works along with contemporary painting and arts. This has to be one of the most unique art tour routes in all of the U.S. The High Road Art Tour is put together each year by the High Road Artisans, a volunteer-run organization. You may want to visit their website for additional information and event postings at  highroadnewmexico.com

See additional Trips Into History articles on the links below…..

The Old Turquoise Mines of Cerillos NM / A Short Hiking Trip

A Spanish Mission in Rancho de Taos NM

Reasons You’ll Enjoy a Rocky Mountain Vacation

Visit Spectacular Bryce Canyon, Utah

chimayo new mexico shrine

El Sancturario de Chimayo

Chimayo, New Mexico

The High Road to Taos will also pass by the town of Chimayo which is home to El Sancturario de Chimayo

The Chimayo Sancturario is a world renown mission church and shrine that dates back to the very first Spanish settlers in the area and is considered a shrine where over 300,000 visitors travel there annually.  Sancturario de Chimayo is a religious shrine. This is a must stop while driving the High Road route. 

Northern New Mexico offers the tourist many interesting historic venues to visit along with several very scenic road trip routes. If time permits during your visits to either Santa Fe or Taos, the High Road to Taos is a road trip you don’t want to miss.

(Article and photos copyright Trips Into History)

 

Drive the Historic Illinois Lincoln Highway / History and Attractions

This feature article is about  the Illinois Lincoln Highway which extends across the state east to west for a length of 179 miles. Before we describe the Illinois section of this historic transcontinental highway, we want to offer you a brief history about this early 1900′s project along with some of the people who made it possible.

lincoln highway route markerRoads Before the Lincoln Highway

The Lincoln Highway was the nation’s first transcontinental highway.The highway, planned in 1913, had a positive lasting effect that fostered the Good Roads movement which also led to the establishment of the historic Route 66.

Prior to the conception of the Lincoln Highway, automobile manufacturers were growing by leaps and bounds but the highway situation in the country was something else altogether. In 1912 there were actually no decent roads (for automobile driving) in the U.S. There was no asphalt and concrete at that time and the definition of an improved road was simply one that was graded. There was also no general road plan. Roads would generally lead outside of a town in all directions.

Names Behind the Creation of the Lincoln Highway

Leaders were needed to galvanize action to make a coast to coast highway possible. Money would have to be raised and to accomplish this an adequate amount of promotion to the public was necessary. Help from the Detroit automakers and suppliers would be  essential, most importantly from people like Henry Ford.

Most credit Carl Fisher with the original idea for this coast to coast national highway. Fisher is well known for several endeavors including the co-founding and building of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 16th Street and Georgetown Road, about six miles est of downtown Indianapolis, IN.

joliet illinois lincoln highway

Downtown Joliet, Illinois

Fisher worked on a plan that in addition to building funds from automakers and auto suppliers, towns along the way would provide equipment and enjoy the commercial benefits of being located on this transcontinental highway. Another source of revenue would come from the public who for $5 each could be members of this historic highway.

As it turned out, Henry Ford refused to help fund the highway, believing that it as the public’s responsibility. Those however who joined Carl Fisher did include Henry Joy, the president of the Packard Motor Car Company and Frank Seiberling, president of Goodyear Tire Company.

Naming the Highway

At the time of the organizing and fund raising, there was no name chosen for the future highway.  It just so happened that the federal government was mulling over spending $1.7 million for a marble monument in honor of Abraham Lincoln. Henry Joy from Packard came up with the idea for naming the highway after Lincoln and he and Carl Fisher then urged Congress to use the monument funds for the highway construction instead. The argument was that a transcontinental highway would make a much higher profile monument to the late President.

Routing the Highway

States were lobbying for routes that of course would be beneficial to them. As it turned out, the route chosen for the New York City to San Francisco federal highway would essentially be the most direct one. The Lincoln Highway has the distinction of being the first paved transcontinental highway in the nation.

The Illinois Lincoln Highway

Today, the Illinois Lincoln Highway is a 179 mile long National Scenic Byway. Travel this highway that runs through northern Illinois and discover each town and city’s unique culture and historic sites and landmarks.

The Lincoln Highway route enters Illinois on the east at the town of Lynwood and leaves the state on the west over the Mississippi River. The highway is comprised through Illinois via U.S. 30, and Illinois Routes 31 and 38.

The Illinois Lincoln Highway Coalition along with many local historians, artists and various civic leaders are all credited for the unique thirty-five interpretive murals along the Lincoln Highway. An excellent website with a detailed description of each mural is…http://www.drivelincolnhighway.com/murals/

You may also enjoy additional Trips Into History articles found on the links below…

Drive Wisconsin’s Picturesque Lake Superior Scenic Byway

Travel Michigan’s Copper Harbor Scenic Highway

Chicago’s Magnificent Mile / Historic Fourth Presbyterian Church

ronald reagan boyhood home dixon illinois

Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home, Dixon, IL

More attractions along the Illinois Lincoln Highway include Ronald Reagan’s Home and Visitor Center in Dixon, the 1950′s Midway Drive-In Theater in Sterling, Original 1928 Lincoln Highway concrete markers in Ashton, the 1926 Rialto Square Theater in Joliet, the Black Hawk Statue, the Eternal Indian in Oregon and many more.

Just as with the old Route 66 built years later, the Lincoln Highway spurred the opening of motor courts, diners and gas stations, drive-ins, roadside stands selling just about everything and of course hamburger stands. All things that served the motorist sprang up. Driving these historic highways today is truly taking a trip back into history as some of these old structures still exist today and several museums display photos of Illinois’ Lincoln Highway early years.

illinois lincoln highway route

 

 

 

 

 

100 Year Anniversary in 2015

In commemoration of 100 years since the opening of the Lincoln Highway, the Lincoln Highway Association will host the “Henry B. Joy” Tour. The tour will run from June 27-July 8, 2015. The 2015 Tour will depart the Packard Proving Grounds north of Detroit, Michigan on Saturday, June 27 and take 12 days to travel 2,836 miles across America, arriving at the Lincoln Highway Western Terminus in San Francisco, California on Wednesday, July 8.  For more information on joining this tour including rates and details, see website…..http://www.lincolnhighwayassoc.org/tour/2015/

Some very good books on the historic Lincoln Highway include…..Lincoln Highway Across Illinois, The Images of America by David A. Belden and Christine O’Brien…..Greetings from the Lincoln Highway: A Road Trip Celebration of America’s First Coast-to-Coast Highway by Brian Butko…...Lincoln Highway Companion: A Guide to America’s First Coast-to-Coast Road by Brian Butko.

(Article copyright Trips Into History. Photo of Reagan Boyhood Home courtesy of Ivo Shandor, CC By 2.5. Remaining photos and images in the public domain)

A Trip Into Railroad History / San Angelo Texas

The possibility of a transcontinental railroad, one connecting both oceans, the Atlantic and Pacific, was discussed as far back in time prior to the treaty with Great Britain settling the Oregon question in 1846. Twenty-two years later the nation did indeed celebrate the completion of the transcontinental railroad.

railroad depot santa fe

Old Santa Fe Depot

The fact of the matter was that steam engine technology was advancing and a railroad line spanning that distance was a distinct possibility. In 1849 Eli Whitney published a booklet to promote his idea entitled Project for a Railroad to the Pacific.

San Angelo Texas

San Angelo, Texas, at first named San Angela, had it’s beginnings just after the end of the Civil War when Fort Concho was established in 1867 at the confluence of three rivers in West Central Texas. This was an active frontier military post primarily providing protection against Indian raids. At various times Fort Concho was home to mounted cavalry, infantry, and the famous Black Cavalry whose members were respectfully called “Buffalo Soldiers” by the Native Americans in the area.

locomotive exhibits

Old AT & SF locomotive exhibt

Trips Into History Visits San Angelo Texas Railroad Museum

Trips Into History had the opportunity to visit an excellent west Texas railroad museum in San Angelo.

As was the case with many old train depots, when passenger service to non mainline destinations declined, mostly due to the automobile, plans were made to eventually tear them down. They were not being used and they were a liability to the railroads. As an interesting side note, there actually was a stagecoach operating between San Angelo and Sonora, Texas as late as 1921.

In some cases, and San Angelo was one, local civic groups campaigned to save these historic train stations and turn them into either railroad museums, and/or museums and special event centers. The same was the case with many of the old Harvey Houses that were built all along the Santa Fe Railroad lines. Some were Harvey Houses providing overnight accommodations and others were simply Fred Harvey Dining Rooms.

old railroad passes

A 1912 train pass for a railroad company director, displayed at the San Angelo Railroad Museum

In the case of San Angelo, Texas, some people wanted to turn it into an art gallery while others wanted to divide it into office space to be rented.  Eventually the locals decided to develop the old railroad depot into a railroad museum which officially opened in 1996.

If your travels take you to Belen, New Mexico, just a short drive south of Albuquerque you’ll also find an old Santa Fe Railroad train depot turned into a fascinating railroad museum.

Built by the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railroad in 1909 San Angelo depot was one of a kind. For a small town in 1909 like San Angelo, with just over 6,500 residents, this was a very large structure and the second largest building in San Angelo at the time.

The KCM&O used the building for passenger service and as their Texas corporate headquarters up until they were purchased by the Santa Fe Railroad which moved from their smaller facilities on the North side of town in 1929.

The San Angelo museum’s official name is The Historic Orient/Santa Fe Depot, Inc. The museum does a terrific job explaining the formation and development of railroad lines through San Angelo and west Texas. See artifacts and photos covering 150 years of railroading in the West as well as exhibits relating to the railroad lines passing through San Angelo.

Model Railroad Displays

Model railroad enthusiasts will get to view model train exhibits established by the Model Railroad Club of the Concho Valley.  The club was founded in 1997, shortly after the museum was established. Model Railroad Club of the Concho Valley welcomes new members of any skill level.

The club exhibits model trains Z, N, HO, O and Ggauges for the San Angelo museum’s permanent displays. There is a new HO layout of the KCM&O as it heads West out of San Angelo and passes through Barnahart, Fort Stockton and Presidio before passing over the Mexican Border at Presidio.For more information regarding the Model Railroad Club of the Concho Valley see website…..http://railwaymuseumsanangelo.homestead.com/modelclub.html

You may also enjoy the Trips Into History articles found on the links below…

Historic U.S. Train Depots

Railroads in Texas / The Frisco

Historic Dining Cars of the Santa Fe Railroad

model railroad exhibits texas

One of the model railroad exhibits

Visit the San Angelo Texas Railroad Museum

San Angelo, Texas is located in Tom Green County. The city is home to Goodfellow Air Force Base, Angelo State University, the historic Cactus Hotel, the fourth hotel built by Conrad Hilton, and historic Fort Concho. Fort Concho hosts various events throughout the year. For more information on the fort’s activities see webesite...http://www.fortconcho.com/

The city is located about 112 miles southeast of Midland…about 200 miles northwest of Austin…and about 225 miles southwest of Fort Worth.

References for this article and books we recommend include…..Early San Angelo by author Virginia Noelke. Also, Railroad Transportation In Texas (1909) by author Charles Shirley Potts.

(Article and photos copyright Trips Into History)

Features artifacts from150 years of railroading along with photos of the railroad and opening of the West by railroads. – See more at: http://texasfortstrail.com/plan-your-adventure/historic-sites-and-cities/sites/railway-museum-san-angelo#sthash.3p42ToF8.dpuf