For the last five years, an exciting project has been under construction, hidden away in a Shrewsbury garage, writes Cathy Block.
For the past five years, brothers Scott and Alex Cartwright, their father Russ, and Alex’s partner, Klara, have been building a high-performance Pitts S1-11B aerobatic bi-plane from scratch.
The project outgrew the garage after a while and is now based at Sleap airfield near Wem. Their intention is for Alex to fly the plane at advanced level aerobatic competitions once it is finished - hopefully in the new year.
Pitts S1-11B bi-planes (named the Super Stinker) are fairly rare, despite there being hundreds, if not thousands of Pitts planes worldwide, which meant that building this aircraft has been a difficult task for the family.
Alex said: “The rarity of the aircraft means there isn't a wealth of experience that we can call upon should we need assistance. Additionally, there isn't just the physical work of building an aircraft, but all of the paperwork that goes on behind the scenes, of which countless hours have been spent working on documentation to provide to the Light Aircraft Association (LAA).”
As a family, the Cartwrights have always had a keen interest in aviation and aircraft. Scott works as an aircraft engineer, Alex achieved his Private Pilot Licence (PPL) in 2010, and Klara used to fly gliders back in the Czech Republic. Alex then started competing in aerobatic competitions in 2012, flying a yellow and blue Pitts S-2E and climbing the categories from Beginners to Sportsman, then on to Intermediate where he was successful in bringing back lots of medals and trophies. His biggest achievements so far have been bringing back medals at British National Championship competitions and Pitts Special trophies in 2014 and 2015.
To move on to the Advanced level of the competitions, a more powerful and capable aircraft was needed: “Most people in this position make the jump to a fancy modern carbon monoplane," he explained.
"However, I wanted to keep flying biplanes in competitions - and to one day display this rare and beautiful aircraft at airshows. Quite simply, I love biplanes. I love their history, their character, and the way that they display in the sky."
And so, they set about building the S1-11B. Competing has had to take a back seat for a while, but Alex hopes to compete in the advanced level once the new plane is finished.
Construction began in May 2016, when they collected the bare steel tubular fuselage from an aircraft welder in Southend-on-Sea. Most of the work was done in their parents' and neighbours' garages in Shrewsbury over the next five years, and the plane now resides in Sleap airfield near Wem, awaiting its final touches.
Aircraft engineer Scott mainly focuses on the fuselage build of the project: "It’s been a roller coaster ride and a massive learning experience!” he says.
Alex and his partner, Klara, both work in software engineering and between them, take care of the fuselage, wings and paperwork. BT worker Russ has taken on the construction of the upper and lower wings. Alex says their dad loves the woodwork! Over the next couple of weeks, the parts will head off to be painted, but hopefully, the final assembly can begin in September.
The plane’s first flight is expected to take place in the new year: “I’m sure there will be many emotions on the day of its first flight, which is why I won’t be performing the first test flight myself. I shall let somebody who doesn't have that close connection to it handle that part!” Alex laughs.
The aircraft is inspected at multiple stages throughout the build by a Light Aircraft Association Engineer, however, to ensure everything is as it should be - every single part has a duplicate inspection.
"Safety is the number one priority in aviation, and home builds are no exception," Alex adds.
Their magnificent machine will be flying in the skies over Shropshire before long, so keep your eyes peeled!