Jim Young and the Sunbird, winter 1980


Awesome Lady XP 720


Dick Green and his S-1X Sunbird


The Dick DeMars-built 8-cylinder Lycoming IO-720 engine for Awesome Lady. The stock IO-720 was modified to use parallel valve cylinders with a compression ratio of 11 to 1. The estimated power output is 460 hp.


Awesome Lady's 4-blade propeller built by Gerd Mulbauer, MT-Propeller


A size comparison of the Phoenix and the Goshawk


Mike Anderson and the Phoenix shortly after placing 2nd at the 1989 Nationals


The Goshawk just prior to first flight. Another Dick DeMars-built , highly modified Lycoming IO-540. This angle valve engine put out 345 to 350 hp on the dynamometer.


Rory Moore on his first flight in the Goshawk at Rich Bastian's private airstrip.


Reprint of: Beyond The Pitts  Sport Aviation, August 1992  by: Dan Rihn      

BEYOND THE PITTS There is no way I could start this article without first giving my thanks to Curtis Pitts for  designing one of the greatest aerobatic airplanes of all time......thanks Curtis. 

Twenty years ago this summer the Pitts Special swept the World Aerobatic Contest (WAC), american pilots  came in 1,3,6,9, and 30 in the mens division, 1 and 10 in the womens division . They all flew Pitts Special  aircraft . Charlie Hillard was named World Champion and Mary Gaffaney won the womens World Champion title,  the mens team trophy was awarded to top three american pilots . 

This contest was to be the ultimate achievement for the Pitts Special. After this event the Pitts Special went on  to become the most popular aerobatic airplane in the world, either factory built , kit built or built from plans. No  doubt about it the Pitts was here to stay . As in any motor sport the desire for more performance is a never  ending objective . Through the years the Pitts Special has been modified , copied and redesigned in many ways,  however underneath the skin lies the ancestry of Curtis's little biplane. This is a story of how I designed five  different competition biplanes all based on the Pitts Special. 

In 1972 I was a senior in High School logging as much time in our family Piper J-3 Cub as I possibly could. I had  decided that I was going to become an aerobatic pilot someday and that I was going to fly a Pitts Special , even  if I had to build it myself. I persuaded my metal shop instructor to teach me how to weld then I set off to build my  Pitts Special. With help from my father the two of us built up a set of tail surfaces. 

That was as far as that project got. In September I left home for college in southern California to become an  aeronautical engineer. In '74 I convinced my parents that I should take the Cub with me to SoCal and to keep up  my flying skills. I moved the Cub to Compton airport and fit right in with the homebuilders and antiquers on the  field. As luck would have it I met up with Jim Young who was building a gorgeous Starduster TOO known as Big  Red. Jim and I became very good friends and I began spending much of my free time helping him finish the  Starduster. However I still had the bug to build a Pitts and spent countless hours telling Jim how he should have  built a Pitts instead of a Starduster. During one of our marathon fabric sanding sessions on Big Red we  decided that we would build two Pitts S-1S's in Jim's shop . Jim would later go on to win Grand Champion  Homebuilt at Oshkosh in '75 with Big Red then promptly sold it so that he could concentrate on the Pitts project. 

Jim and I each finished our Pitts, I was still in college and Jim was a far better craftsman than I so naturally he  was in the air before me. We then started going to the regional International Aerobatic Club (IAC) contests , it  wasn't long before Jim was bitten with quest for more performance. It was about this time that Kermit Weeks  was really making some waves with his own design based on the Pitts. The Weeks Special (S-1W) was  powered with a 200 HP Lycoming driving a two bladed Hoffman propeller. Kermit was flying circles around any  stock Pitts. There were many other competition pilots modifying their Pitts but what really turned Jim and I on  was that this was not a modified Pitts but a completely new design based on the proven Pitts formula. 

In early '78 Jim and I decided that we would design our own new aerobatic airplane and attempt to do Kermit  one better by using a 260 HP six cylinder Lycoming engine. Hence the S-1X Sunbird was born. 

I did all the engineering and drawings, Dave and Larry Massey did all the major welding, Jim purchased stock  S-1S wings, horizontal tail, elevators, and spring gear from the Pitts factory. From the nose to tail this was a very  different airplane. We used a stock Lycoming O-540 with a PS-5 carburetor driving a two blade 80" diameter  Hartzell prop. The compound curve cowl was made up of several pieces of aluminum , we made up a "hoop  skirt" type mockup of the engine then had a professional metal shaper bang out the shape on a yoder hammer.  The finished product was a beautiful 2 piece that had most people convinced it was made from fiberglass, the  finished cowl weighed only 12 pounds. 

We made our own mold for the canopy using foam and fiberglass, a local windshield/canopy maker used the  mold to pull a single piece canopy for us. 

We designed our own control housing that fit under the seat, a very low profile affair that helped us get rid of the  pot belly look usually associated with Pitts. 

The ailerons were also our own design, symmetrical in shape and larger than on Pitts. We paid extremely close  attention to weight control, not one part went into the airplane without being thoroughly looked at as to its degree  of structural integrity versus weight. Most parts were laboriously lightened. Jim was a Dentist by profession and I  was always amazed to watch him work with a high speed rotary file, he could reduce the weight of just about any  part and still retain the strength. All of this extra labor paid off in the end our empty weight was 854 lbs, or about  100 pounds more than light S-1S's. Overall dimensions were 16.4 feet long, 17.3 foot wing span and a total  wing area of 102 square feet. It took us eighteen months to first flight and it was obvious from the first takeoff we  had a real performer. With a competition weight of 1090 lbs and a power to weight ratio of only 4.19 lbs/HP the  Sunbird had a climb rate of 4,100 feet/min.. From an aerobatic performance viewpoint the Sunbird was capable  of 2,600 feet on a vertical up line in a Hammerhead and had the ability of capturing 1,800 feet after a vertical up  maneuver and flying away. The top speed was a 205 MPH in level flight. 

Jim made his competition debut in the Sunbird while flying in the Advanced category at the Delano aerobatic  contest in September of '79. Later in October the Sunbird was the hit at the Nationals in Sherman Texas. From  the very start of the Sunbird project we had our eye on building a few more for other competition pilots. During  the Christmas holidays we sat down and started re-engineering the Sunbird to fix some of the small things we  had not liked on the prototype. The main problem was that it was a little nose heavy. I reworked the fuselage and  moved the wings further forward and the pilot a few inches aft. We also wanted to use a lighter 3 blade prop  from Hoffman. By March of '80 we were well on our way to starting up another project when disaster struck.  

While flying to Delano to deliver the new fuselage drawings to the Massey's, Jim became caught in a storm over  the Gorman pass. Low ceilings,poor visibility and blowing snow forced him to attempt a landing on the highway  at the foot of Mt. Pinos. Jim ended up under shooting the highway by a few feet. Unfortunately, there was a creek  which made a vertical embankment at the edge of the road. The sudden impact totally destroyed the Sunbird  and killed Jim. This was devastating for me to lose my best friend so needlessly. The lesson I learned from this  experience was obvious. The very next day, when the Massey's and I went to the crash site the sky was clear  with visibility over 100 miles. From that point on, I have never found myself in such a hurry that I had to be  anywhere . 

I didn't do any design work for anybody for several years after this accident. Mostly I modified my own S-1S and  kept competing. During this time period I met many wonderful people and fellow competitors. I did decide to sell  drawings of the Sunbird, and eventually sold three sets of plans. Tom Aberle, of Sport Biplane racing fame,  bought a set and started building. This project was eventually bought and finished by Dick Green. Dick is  currently practicing for airshows and competition. Another set of plans was purchased by Kenny Blalock who  used them for the basis of his own design now known as the Pitts Falcon. Ultimately I decided to stop selling  plans and only do design work for my close friends. 

At the '83 National aerobatic contest in Mesa, Arizona two of my good friends ,Amos Buettell and Mike  Anderson talked me into designing new airplanes for each of them. Here again it was the influence of Kermit  Weeks that got the wheels rolling. Kermit was now flying the Weeks Solution, another new biplane with 300 HP.  Kermit was the hit of the contest and won the National title. Both Mike and Amos wanted something that could  match or top Kermit. Mike had something along the lines of the Sunbird in mind but with even more power.  Amos wasn't sure what he wanted so I came up with the idea of using a IO-720,eight cylinder, 400 HP, 4 blade  propeller mounted on a S-2 size airplane. Amos was sold on the concept and contracted the services of noted  Pitts builder Rich Bastian to build the airplane. Mike and I exchanged ideas until we were sure what we were  after. By the Spring of '84 I had completed drawings for both airplanes. Rich got started immediately and Mike  decided to build his airplane himself. From that point on Mike's plane became known as the Phoenix and  Amos's was called Awesome Lady (all of Amos's airplanes were named "something" Lady). The name Phoenix  was chosen because Mike wanted to symbolize the uprising of the Sunbird project. 

Awesome Lady was truly awesome, Dick Demars built up the engine, we decided to modify it quite a bit from  the stock IO-720. We used the lighter parallel valve cylinders and upped the compression ratio to 11 to 1, this  along with other modifications which raised the output of this engine from 400 HP to 460 HP. Gerd Muhlbauer  built up two 4 blade propellers, one for a spare. Fairly stock S-2 wings were built up by Dan Beckman however  he made them much lighter and they had larger ailerons. The fuselage was pure Pitts in design, basically what I  did was follow what the Pitts factory did to the S-2A when they went from a 200 HP 4 cylinder engine to the 260  HP 6 cylinder engine. The only difference was, I used the S-2B as my starting point. The "B" uses a 260 HP 6  cylinder engine so all I did was shift things around to accommodate the weight of two more cylinders.  

The building of Awesome went very quickly, in twelve months time she was very near making first flight. Then  disaster struck, someone broke into Rich's shop and vandalized it by setting it on fire. Several of the aircraft in  the shop were destroyed, the wings of Awesome were reduced to ashes but the fuselage's damage was  primarily limited to the fabric and the canopy. Amos was absolutely heartbroken, he decided to continue the  project and rebuild Awesome Lady. 

In order to have something to compete in for the '85 contest season he the purchased a Laser monoplane .  Unfortunately it wasn't very long before tragedy struck again. While practicing in the Laser a propeller counter  weight broke lose. The vibration was severe enough to eventually cause an in-flight fire. Amos was too low to  bail out and too high to get on the ground quick enough. While attempting to land the burning aircraft he lost  control on rollout, ground looped and flipped over. Some people pulled him from the burning wreckage but Amos  was not able to survive the damage done to his body. Again I was devastated with the loss of yet another very  close friend. 

Not much happened to the Awesome Lady project until Bob Veazie decided to buy it from the Amos's estate.  Awesome Lady was rebuilt and finally took to the air in May 1987. The performance of this plane lives up to its  name. Bob described some of the performance as follows," on an 85 degree day at Phoenix, Deer Valley  airport (field elevation 1475 MSL) I started the stopwatch at brake release, 90 seconds later I was at 6400 feet  MSL and doing slightly better than 200 MPH". 

Perhaps the most impressive maneuver it will do is the Torque Roll, the roll rate is as fast or faster going back  down than it is going up. Bob found that it was the easiest airplane he had ever flown to hold in the vertical line  while coming back down in the Torque Roll. I often wonder what could have been if Amos were to have  competed in it, Amos was well known for his extremely aggressive and imaginative 4-Minute Freestyle  sequences. Awesome Lady is now owned by Bob Sears, Bob is planning on flying it in airshows and setting  some time to climb records. 

Some of the specifications for the Awesome Lady are ; wingspan 20 feet ,length 19 feet, empty weight 1380  lbs.. The top speed in level flight is 230 MPH with a cruise speed of 175 MPH. The noise of the 8 cylinder  engine and 4 blade propeller is like no other aerobatic airplane. This should be a real crowd pleaser at  airshows. Needless to say Bob Sears should have no trouble breaking some time to climb records in a more  ideal conditions than Bob Veazie had in Phoenix, Arizona. 

Meanwhile Mike Anderson continued building the Phoenix. Mike had originally wanted to build 4 or 5 airplanes  but soon decided that he should build one first then see how it flew. 

This project progressed slowly in the early stages. This was due in part to Mike modifying his flat wing Pitts by  building a set of symmetrical wings for it. Also during this time I became friends with Rory Moore, an Unlimited  competition pilot flying a stock Pitts S-1T. Rory was based in Phoenix, Arizona, and routinely practiced in 100  degree + temperatures and very high density altitudes. The stock S-1T was really struggling in these conditions.  I might add that Rory is a big man and weighed over 240 lbs at that time . This put him at 1200 lbs aerobatic  weight with a wing loading of almost 12 lbs/sq ft. and a power loading of 6 lbs/HP. Watching him start an  Unlimited sequence in these conditions was like watching the Space Shuttle returning to earth. At the '85  Nationals Rory talked me into designing a new biplane. He wanted something designed around his large frame  with performance and looks comparable to Kermit Weeks Solution. 

After returning home I started designing what was to become known as the Goshawk. Due to the excellent  working relationship I had developed with Rich Bastian I convinced Rory to hire Rich Bastian to build and  coordinate the construction of the Goshawk. Again we hired Dick DeMars to build the engine and Dan  Beckman to build the wings. The building went very quickly , on January 25, ' 87 the Goshawk took to the air, this  was only 13 months after the project was started. Rich had truly built a masterpiece this time, the joke was that if  Rory couldn't win at the aerobatic contests he could easily win a trophy at a fly-in. 

The Goshawk weighed in at just under 1100 lbs and is powered with a pumped up Lycoming IO-540, which had  a dry weight of 410 LBS, with a compression ratio of 10 to 1 it is capable of producing about 345 to 350 HP, a  tribute to Dick DeMars expertise. During the construction period Rory went on a serious diet, he is now a  muscular 210 lbs, this put the competition weight is about 1400 lbs making for a power loading of just 4 lbs/HP.  The overall dimensions are 18 feet long and a 19 foot wingspan , both upper and lower wings are swept back  7.5 degrees with a wing area of 124 square feet. A great deal of attention was paid to keeping the lines a more  angular shape than the Pitts, this was done to improve the judging. The current monoplanes have benefitted  greatly by presenting a straight,clean angular shape to the judges. Also, Rory designed the paint scheme to  enhance this effect, the overall presentation to judges is a very clean silhouette. The performance of the  Goshawk is as stunning, taking a back seat to no other aerobatic airplane. It wasn't long before Rory developed  into a serious contender for a coveted spot on the U.S. Aerobatic Team. To this date Rory has won or placed in  many regional contests and the highest place achieved at National contest was 8th in 1988. 

The Goshawk is capable of performing 5 vertical rolls with relative ease, in his 4-Minute or airshow routine Rory  has done Torque rolls with a total roll count as high as 13. Some of the other maneuvers Rory has developed in  his 4-Minute routine are vertical Lomcovaks that transition into a torque roll, knife edge spins, a maneuver  known as the Cartwheel (or also known as the Pinwheel) which is a total 540 degrees of yaw rotation at the top  of a vertical line. Another unusual maneuver made possible by the high power to weight ratio and the large  rudder area is the ability to recover from a flat spin without dropping the nose,(just use full power and lots of  opposite rudder). Currently Rory and the Goshawk are based in the San Diego, CA area at Montgomery Field. 

When Mike Anderson saw how quickly Rich Bastian had built the Goshawk and how beautiful it turned out he  decided to hire Rich to finish the Phoenix. This proved to be an excellent decision. Once again Rich performed  his magic and created a gorgeous machine. Rich and his gang started on the Phoenix in early '87. They  nicknamed the project "Ol' Rusty",to this day they probably refer to it with this name. Rich would keep Mike  abreast with the progress with occasional video tapes. These tapes would do wonders for Mikes spirits. 

The Phoenix is somewhat smaller than the Goshawk and bears many resemblances to the Sunbird. Wing span  is 17.33 feet, wing area is 102 square feet (including the fuselage area) and the length is 16.5 feet. The empty  weight turned out to be 1023 lbs and the competition weight is 1280 lbs. Powered by a pumped up Lycoming  IO-540 capable of putting out 350 HP and driving a 3-blade MT propeller the Phoenix has a power to weight  ratio of 3.7 lbs/HP. 

The first flight was in May '88. Mike spent about 150 hours in flight test and learning how to get the most  performance out of the Phoenix. The top speed in level flight is 205 MPH and the stall speed is 80 MPH, it has  an unbelievable acceleration rate and can climb at 4,000 feet per minute. Dive test have been made up to 250  MPH indicated but in a sequence speeds are kept down to 220 MPH. The roll rate is an honest 360 degrees  per second and the stick pressures are very light making point rolls a delight. Mike can easily perform 6 linked  vertical rolls and has done as many as 15 total rolls in a torque roll. From level flight at 100 MPH Mike can pull to  vertical do a full roll then fly away upright (cap off). However it is snap rolls that are the Phoenix's forte', These  are performed at approximately 140 MPH. During Mikes 4-minute sequence he does 3 linked vertical inside  snaps. The spin characteristics are traditional and no surprised have come up other than that in an inverted flat  spin with full power the nose pitches from almost straight up to nearly straight down. However if a little power is  taken off it will flat spin just like a Pitts, which means very acceptable and honest flat spin characteristics.  Recovery from any type of spin can be accomplished by just using opposite rudder only, the Gene Beggs  method of power off, hands off, opposite rudder also worked beautifully. Visibility over the nose on the ground is  not real good, somewhere between an S-1S and an S-2B, visibility in the air is quite acceptable for an  aerobatic biplane. During an aerobatic sequence the fuel burn rate is 30 GPH and 15.5 GPH is the normal burn  for cross country. 

It wasn't long before Mike started inventing new maneuvers and exploring the outer edges of the envelope. The  Phoenix is capable of doing every thing the Goshawk is and, combined with Mike's own inventiveness many  new maneuvers were created which made for an outstanding 4-minute routine. This sequence includes a  Cartwheel, Knife edge, torque roll, fly away humpty bump, shoulder roll, and many other yet to be named  convolutions.  

Much of the same thinking went into the Phoenix as did the Goshawk in respect to the judging aspects. Mike  designed the paint scheme and the effect has proven to work marvelously. The white on the fuselage bottom  contrasts sharply with the black top side, this makes the airplane look much longer in the air which makes for  easier judging. I really had a ball watching the Goshawk and the Phoenix go head-to-head in competition. I found  it amusing to hear some people say that the Goshawk was too big and the Phoenix was just the right size, then I  would hear exactly the opposite comment from someone else. My opinion is that they are both just right. The  differences were designed and built exactly as their owners wished. 

During the '89 contest season Mike would win every regional contest he entered including Fond du Lac. Later,  at the U.S .Nationals ,only 25.034 points out of over 13503 points possible separated Mike from winning and  placing him second to reigning national champion Clint McHenry. A 0.2 percentage of points made the  difference between first and second place, however this assured Mike a position an the U.S. Aerobatic Team  and therefore a trip to the '90 World Aerobatic Contest to be held at Yverdon, Switzerland. Unfortunately this trip  was not to be, due to commitments at work he had to give up his spot on the team to the alternate pilot and  good friend Pete Anderson. Pete would go on to become the highest scoring U.S. pilot at the World contest and  also win the Nationals that year. 

Recently, I designed an I0-540 powered mid-wing monoplane for Rory Moore, sort of a Laser/Extra/Superstar  clone but with a larger engine. However there is still a whole lot of knowledge from my Pitts experience built into  this monoplane. Rory hired Alan Geringer and Rick Kunkle to build and coordinate the overall construction.  Wayne Barton was hired to build the wing. Half way into the project, Rory decided to sell it to Cecilia Aragon.  Rick and Alan did a splendid job of finishing up the Sabre as it is now known. At the '91 Nationals Cecilia won a  spot on the U.S. Aerobatic Team entitling her to fly in the '92 World Aerobatic Contest to be held in LeHavre,  France this summer. Hopefully Cecilia will fly the Sabre in this contest and I can finally say that one of my  designs made it to the World Contest. In summary, I would say that I have had a most enjoyable experience  designing these airplanes. I've been asked by many people which one I personally like the most? I really can't  answer that because I have good thoughts about each of them, I think that it would be similar tho answering  which one of your children you love the most. I have also been asked how come I don't build one for myself? The  answer to this is much easier, pure economics and time (or lack thereof). Fortunately for me, I have had the  good fortune as an aircraft designer to have such wonderful friends who believed in me enough to build  aerobatic airplanes of my design. 


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