Famed Aviatrix Betty Skelton and Her Pitts Special
The oldest surviving Pitts Special, Little Stinker, was the second aircraft constructed by Curtis Pitts. It was the smallest aerobatic airplane in the world at that time. Betty
Skelton bought this airplane in 1948 for $3,000, and with it she won the 1949 and 1950 International Feminine Aerobatic Championships. Her impressive flying skill and public relations ability heightened awareness of both aerobatics and the Pitts design.
Skelton made several changes to her Pitts Special including having her father construct a small Plexiglas canopy for cross country flight that was easily removed for aerobatics. She replaced the original Aeromatic propeller with a fixed pitch McCauley. She also mounted a ball-bank indicator upside down in the instrument panel, for control coordination in inverted flight, just above the one used for normal flight.
Skelton flew aerobatics in Little Stinker at the Cleveland Air Races and was a staple at air shows throughout the southeastern United States where she often doubled as the peach or magnolia queen. Skelton also wrote articles for aviation magazines and even had her own radio show. In the Pitts she became the first woman to perform an inverted ribbon cut. She became known as the “fastest woman on Earth.” Ms. Skelton made her first solo flight – illegally- at age 12. She gave her first aerobatics performance when she was 19 performing with the Blue Angels as they made their debut in 1946.
Betty was born in 1926, in Pensacola, Florida, and grew up watching airplanes flying above a nearby naval air station. As a girl, she played with airplanes instead of dolls. She ended up being named to no fewer than 11 halls of fame for her life pursuits. She died of cancer in 2011 at the age of 85.Her airplane, the Little Stinker, is on display in the entrance hall to the Steven Udvar Center suspended from the ceiling as shown to the left.