On 11-July-1998, N71HR was lost in an aerobatic accident. My partner, Curt, was injured in the crash, but is currently recovering and it expected to make a full recovery.
N71HR's engine had just received a total new top-end, with Lycon ported and polished cylinders with 10.5/1 compression pistons, high performance flowed Bendix fuel injection system, and a new mag. The final re-assembly was done at Komar Aviation on Sunday 7-Jun-1998, leaving a mere three days to finish the 15 hour break-in before the Paso Robles Contest on Thursday 11-June. We made it, and despite a fairly different flying airplane and no practice, we both managed to do pretty well at the contest. See the 1998 results page for details on that. See the Odyssey for a complete story of the break-in flights before the Paso contest.
N71HR was a Pitts Special S1S, built in 1991 by Herb Ross. The first flight was on October 4, 1991, shortly after the initial airworthiness was issued. It was the 9th Pitts of 11 built by Herb. It only accumulated 85 hours between the first flight on October 4, 1991 and May 20, 1995, when Curt & I bought it. As of June 1998, it has some 670 hours, and has won several trophies in International Aerobatic Club Contests in California, as well as attended several airshows in the Bay Area.
The airplane features several "experiments" Herb wanted to try to improve on the original design. The cowling is a 4 piece kevlar design, with 2 panels, a top piece and a bottom piece. Herbís reaction to the kevlar was not a good one, citing its difficulty to work with not being worth the 3 or 4 pounds of weight saved. The wingtips are also modified - the last rib on each wing, normally a smaller rib attached to a round bow, was replaced with a full sized rib, and a fiberglass "teardrop" wingtip installed. This served to raise the stall speed to about 75 mph, and the approach speed to 110 - 115 mph. It also increased the roll rate to about 320 degrees per second, making it one of the fastest rolling Pitts Specials around.
In IAC competition, "Hot Rod" (as we called her) did very well. Between the two of us, N71HR won trophies in 9 of the last 10 contests over the 1996, 1997, and 1998 seasons. In 1997, Hot Rod took 1st (Curt) and 3rd (me) in the California Point Series in Advanced, and 3rd (Curt) and 12th (me) in the 1997 nationwide Advanced standings (way to go Curt!). In 1998, Hot Rod earned 2/3s of Third place in the California Point Series, as my last contest was flown in the new airplane, N93DB.
As mentioned above, Herb has built 11 Pitts Specials as well as 3 Christen Eagles. One of Herbís Eagles was purchased and flown by Bob Herendeen, a renowned airshow pilot. Herb also built the wings for the original Christen Eagles Is flown by the Eagles Aerobatic Team.
Herb was almost a double-ace in WWII, with 9 victories. He has flown all manner of fighters, including P-40s, P-47s, P-51s, P-38s, and later, at the beginning of the jet age, he flew F-86s. He has many great stories about his experiences - everything from landing a sick P-47 on a beach to almost having a mid-air with a Spitfire. Once, after filling a ME-109 full of holes, he circled around to get a look at the pilot who stepped out of the airplane to take the silk letdown. The German thought he was dead meat, but Herb just buzzed by and gave him a "wing-wag".
I soloed a Decathlon on April 29, 1993, and immediately began learning aerobatics. I thought the Decathlon was the end-all, be-all airplane, and I wanted one badly. That is, of course, until I first flew a Pitts Special on December 26, 1993. The first time I rolled a Pitts, I burst out laughing. It whipped around so fast, and was so light on the controls, I knew THAT was what I had to have. After some 50 hours behind the stick of an S2B, I purchased N71HR with a partner, and the rest, as they say, is history. I have been lucky enough to fly several different types, from a Piper J3 Cub, to a retractable Piper Arrow II, to a $200,000 Extra 300, and I'll take my Pitts ANY DAY. It is simply the most fun to fly, hard wood seat and all. It is well known that the biplane is losing its competitive edge in National and World-level competition aerobatics to the big, expensive monoplanes, but I still will never trade my Pitts for anything. The class, style, beauty, and performance will never be topped in my book.
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