Tony Higa Airshows
Tony Higa began his aerobatic training in 1985. The training was accomplished in a Pitts S2B. Immediately afterwards, he looked for a project to build, as he wanted his own aerobatic airplane. He wanted to build his own pitts and keep it for life.
In the following year, he found a Pitts S1S in Trade-A-Plane. It was located in Kansas City, Missouri. Borrowing a trailer from his boss to haul the engine, fuselage, and a wing kit, he set off for Kansas City on Highway 40...due east.
As he entered Texas, a gust wind blew the trailer over. The van Tony was pulling the trailer with became unstable and it too ended up on its side. Then the van and trailer grounded loop of 160 degrees. The shell of the trailer was ripped off and there are damage to the van. Interstate 40 was blocked for 3 hours.
Tony left the trailer in a garage of an auto repair shop and secured a broken door of the van with a rope. Then Tony continued on to Kansas City. Tony ended up with a broken trailer and the expense of buying it. The expenditure was not going to be something he planned for.
In the following year, Tony returned to Kansas City to retrieve the fuselage and wings. The Pitts was sold by Mr. Stan Braman, a Boeing 747 Captain for TWA. The project was stored in his warehouse and he resisted selling it for many years, but to see Tony’s twisted van and hear his story about how he traveled to get there must have touched his heart. He felt Tony’s passion!
Upon his return, Tony started the construction of his Pitts Special. He fabricated the craft from dozens of drawings by purchasing materials and making them by himself. The engine and fuselage were built in his hangar, but many of the other parts including the lower wings and accessories were built at home.
The fuselage, horizontal stabilizer, rudder and elevator are made of chromoly steel tube. The structure of the wings is aircraft grade spruce covered with dacron fabric. Many of the other components are aluminum, fiberglass, plexiglass and stainless steel. Shown here is the top wing leading edge being attached.
After the wooden structure of the wing is finished, he applies epoxy varnish to protect the from moisure.
After the wood work is completed, he attaches the wings to the fuselage to check for fit and to verify they are built to drawing apecifictions.
The fuselage frame is first primed, the painted. This process offers anti corrosion and rust protection. This is very important as it is the structure that protects the pilot and to which all components of the airplane are attached.
On the left is a four cylinder, 180 horsepower Lycoming engine, freshly returned from overhaul. On the right is a sic cylinder, 260 horsepower Lycoming engine removed a Piper Saratoga. At the time the project was purchased, the Pitts engine had a normal crankshaft, I have since replaced it with a solid flange crankshaft strengthened for aerobatic use.
After installing the engine and new propeller to the airframe, it was tie to do the first run up. This was the moment the airplane came to life for the first time. The tiny fuselage wanted to leap forward, but the brakes held. The engine is strong and will make a great powerplant.
The wing and the rear section of the fuselage are covered with aircraft quality polyester (synthetic fiber) and the front section of the fuselage is covered with aircraft quality aluminum alloy. The fabric is actually glued together with an adhesive; it s them ironed at a specific temperature to tighten the cover. The polyester actually shrinks 20% with this process.
The aircraft fabric is painted with a light blue dope. This seals and makes the fabric waterproof to enhance its strength. The cover is then stitched to the frame with aircraft quality thread to complete the installation. These stitches are then covered with reinforcing tapes. The stitch is very specific and quite complicated.
Now, with final fitting completed, the aircraft is painted. With the consent of an auto body repair shop owner, Tony applies the final coats of paint. He uses the booth to assure a high quality finish. He wants an even, lustrous finish . With all of the components painted, he temporarily assembles aircraft. The machine transforms from miscellaneous parts to an actual airplane.
He performs final fabrication and fit of the propeller spinner. The work is tedious and must be cone with precision. If a cut or hole is not placed correctly, the integrity of the structure will be lost, and he will have to start again. Building an aircraft requires patience, precision and passion. All obstacles must be overcome, all problems must be solves.
With the installation of the electrical system and the final mounting of the wings, the engine is ready to run.
The work is 90% complete at this point and the Pitts S1S is ready for taxi test. On the field with friends, family and excited onlookers cheering him on, Tony competes the taxi testing. The engine is humming smoothly, the tailwheel steers nicely, the brakes are perfect. At the completion of the test, and comfortable with the results, Tony realizes his dream of returning to the sky is near.
On August 10, 2003 with other pilots and friends watching, Tony flew TangoTango for the initial test flight. A landmark day for the pilot/builder who realized he was now inches away from his goal.
With his participation in the National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada in 2003, to commemorate the event, the famous woodblock artist Bokunen Naka, from Okinawa, offered an artwork to adorn Tony’s airplane. The large works displayed on the fuselage (shown here), are his creations. With 18 years of effort from the first acquisition of the project to completion, TangoTango flies around the pylons bearing Race 31. What a wonderful day!