by Budd Davisson
Whatís better than a biplane? Thatís obvious: a biplane with a round motor. And whatís better than a biplane with a round motor? A round-motored biplane thatís designed by Curtis Pitts!
When youíre saddling up the Model 12, it feels like a much bigger than a normal two-place Pitts, when in reality itís not. As I dropped into the rear cockpit, however, there was no doubt that this was a big guyís airplane because the fuselage is so much wider to mate with the 360 hp, Russian M-14P radial engine.
The M-14P engine is the most fun thing to happen to sport aviation since Curtis designed the first Pitts Special. The Russians and Romanians cranked them out by the thousands, they cost far less than Lycomings and Continentals, are built like tanks andÖwellÖthey are round. So, weíre now seeing lots of fun airplanes built around them.
The engine starts via a pneumatic system that pumps air into cylinders in sequence and, if youíve got all the valves set correctly and hold your mouth just right, it fires instantly. The sound is so tough sounding itís no wonder one of the airplaneís early names (it still has an identity problem) was ìMacho Stinkerî in keeping with the long line of Pitts Special ìStinkers.î
I was told two things before flying the airplane. First, because prop clearance is limited, you fly it off the ground in a three-point position and second, because the prop turns the ìwrongî way (counter clockwise as seen from the cockpit) Iíd be using the left foot, rather than the right to handle torque and gyroscopic precession on takeoff.
As I started the throttle forward I realized they hadnít prepared me for something elseóacceleration like nothing Iíd experienced outside of something like a Bearcat. The runway was only visible in slim wedges on both sides of the nose but I forgot about the lack of visibility as soon as I felt myself being slammed into the seat cushions. Yeehah!
The airplane clawed its way into the air and immediately started moving right: that big prop was doing itís best to torque the airplane. So, my left foot went forward. Then it went forward some more. Zowie! Was this thing ever a tiger!
I went upstairs at a record rate (3,000 fpm plus) all the time basking in the delicious melody that can be sung only by a round motor. Love it!
At altitude I had to remind myself that, in Curtisís words, heíd designed it to be an ìold manís aerobatic airplane.î Even so, it still managed to roll better than just about any other biplane out there and doing loops was a hoot: that big engine and prop feel like you have a locomotive dragging you over the top. Jim and Kevin Kimble (www.pittsmodel12.com) of Zellwood, Florida offer kits for the airplane that feature shorter wings and fuselage that make the airplane much more nimble.
With that big nose hiding the runway, I flew the typical turning approach with a slip at the end both for visibility and to control the glide slope. After touch down the airplane is much more directionally stable than any other Pitts, which is really nice.
Did I like the airplane? Well, I now have a brand new M-14P engine sitting in my hangar and that must say something.