Chef Pitts

Photography: Nicholas Pascarella | Richard Souza | James Woodard

Full Disc Aviation got to spend a few minutes with Chef Pitts (Clemens Kuhlig) at the fenceline before the Manassas airshow and he was kind enough to answer some of our questions. Chef flies a crimson and black Pitts S1S with a mustache on the cowling, his signature triple smoke trails and outside loops wowing audiences along the east coast.

FDA: Enjoyed your flying yesterday man! That was great!
Chef:
Thank you, I appreciate that!

FDA: Was this your first time doing the [inverted] ribbon cut away from home?
Chef:
Yeah, in a show, yeah!

FDA: How long have you been practicing that?
Chef:
Not too long; couple months now. I worked with [aerobatic legend] Patty Wagstaff on that.

FDA: Probably a good person to help with that! You do a lot of inverted or outside loops and rolls, lots of pushing, how do you see that in your act compared to other acts?
Chef:
Well, I do it a little more than most people I think, yeah, I don't know, I kind of like it, a lot of people don't like negative Gs, you know, but the biggest thing is getting over being tense about it, you just have to be relaxed. Once you start relaxing, then you start to understand that the airplane is flying just like it does right side up, you're just hangin’ from the belt. You can never get the belt tight enough. There's a ratchet [on the belt] and when I buckle in, when I first get in [the airplane], I ratchet it down, and then after I start it, I get another couple clicks out of it, and then when I taxi down to the end, I get another couple clicks out of it, and then right when I roll out on the runway, I get one more on it, and then I'll go out, and you'll see today, as soon as I take off, I go upside down real quick and it's really a belt check, you know, to make sure, and then I'll get one more or two more out of it. After it kinda settles back in, it's so tight that I have bruises right here from it. And before I come for the pass to cut the ribbon, I get another click out of it. [laughter]

FDA: Better than falling out of your seat!
Chef:
Yeah, I mean you really get it tight.

FDA: Is there a method to handling negative Gs, for instance for positive Gs, flexing your lower body helps the blood from pooling down there...is there a similar method to pushing Gs?
Chef:
If there is one, I don't know of it. [laughter] Just being relaxed, I think, helps, you know, because any kind of tension is holding blood up, and also it's not for very long. On the opener, when I come down and push out and push all the way around, and then start doing the rolls, that's the longest time that it's all negative Gs. Even the outside loop, it's negative, but there's a lot of float on the top, and then you're pushin’ real hard again. So it's not for very long...I don't know, ten seconds is the longest? But also, it's only about 4 negative Gs, it's not a crazy amount, I'm only pulling 6 and pushing 4, Scott [Francis] is probably pulling 10 [laughter] and he does a little pushing he does the one where he rolls that way and pushes out of it, but yeah, just being relaxed is the biggest thing, I think.

FDA: That's different than what I thought.
Chef:
When you're transitioning from negative to positive, [that’s] when it becomes critical ‘cause you're goin’ over the top from negative 2 or 3 and then all of a sudden pulling 4, that's a 7G swing, so that's when the blood will really rush out of your head quickly, and you can have trouble with that. So that's when it's tricky, when you get back to the positive; it's that transition. Pulling 6 is not the same as pushing 2 and then pulling 4.

FDA: I've not had the pleasure of such an experience!
Chef:
It's not for everyone, for sure!

FDA: Do you have a special part of your performance you enjoy more than any other parts?
Chef:
The torque roll.

FDA: That's fun to watch.
Chef:
It's fun to do too, I leave the smoke on so, you know, it gets IFR for a second when you're backin’ down through it. That's one of those maneuvers I remember watching as a kid at airshows and practically everybody has a torque roll in their sequence in some form or another. And also with the torque roll; it was invented by Charlie Hillard in [the] late 60s-early 70s and it was a maneuver he used to win the world championship in 1972...in a Pitts S1S, so that's part of the thing is that it was invented by a guy who flew a Pitts S1S and he beat the Russians doing it, so that's why it's a favorite.

FDA: Do you have any other planes you enjoy flying as much as this one?
Chef:
You know, I don't fly many other airplanes...we have a [Piper] Cherokee 6 at work that I fly once in a while to do service calls and whatever, and that's fun too, you know, it's like a big station wagon, really, it's like a bomber to me. [laughter] But it's all fun.

FDA: Any planes you want to fly?
Chef:
Yeah, the Pitts Samson, that would be the dream, I think. A guy out in California just bought the one that was for sale over in Germany, you know, black and red like that, yeah, that's pretty awesome.

FDA: Who were the guys you looked up to?
Chef:
My heroes were all the guys when I was a kid, Art Scholl, Leo Loudenslager, the Red Devils [Aerobatic Team]...I was talking about Charlie Hillard, he was the lead for the Red Devils, they became the Christian Eagles. They were the Red Devils before they were the Christian Eagles, it was Hillard and Gene Souzy, and Poberezny and so I saw those guys do the formation snap roll in three red Pitts when I was 7 years old, and that was the moment, you know, that was when I was like "Wow, that's what I need to be doing" and yeah, that started the whole thing. And of course the model airplanes, you know, those guys are gunna start pretty soon [to perform at the airshow] you know, RC models and all that, that's all part of it, but yeah from that era, the Red Devils and Art Scholl and Leo and a third guy up north Jim Parker, he fles a Pitts and Quonset Point was the airshow I always went to as a kid and he is in Sugar Ridge, VT, and he was always in that show, which was a big part of that show for many years. He was one of them too, for sure, I even got a ride with him, he had an S2A, flew an S2A for a little while then a S2S, and I sat in the front seat of that S2A, open cockpit, doin’ aerobatics over the mountains in Vermont when I was 10. Watchin that airspeed indicator... [does spinning motion with his hand] You can't see out of a Pitts anyway but then when you're 10, you REALLY can't see out of it, the only thing you can see out of is the side, and you know just watching that airspeed indicator doin this [spinning motion] while we're doing loops and rolls and hammerheads...

FDA: Did you throw up?
Chef:
No, I felt queasy when I got back. But you just keep it short; if you can get somebody on the ground in 20 minutes, they'll be fine. Anything more than that and you know, it gets a little hairy.

FDA: Ever been to Oshkosh?
Chef:
No, I'd love to, I've sent them my stuff a couple times, haven't gotten in, but would love to. Some day! I'd love to do that show...I love them all.

FDA: Just like flying?
Chef:
Just like flying! You know, you just tear around...you know the airport is all yours for 10 minutes and what can beat that? [laughter] I heard, when I was coming in here I was on the [radio] with Washington, and I heard a guy comes on and he goes "Snowbird 1," calling in for his clearance into Cherry Point, approved for 19,000, and he's like "Snowbird 1, flight of 9" and I was like "that's pretty cool" [laughter] So there's lots of neat stuff, and it's all part of it. Not just the flying, that's a huge part of it, but all the other..you know the traveling part of it, the interaction for sure, maybe there's some kids out here that get inspired like I did, who knows?

FDA: I know the kid in me sees 3 smoke trails from your plane and gets more excited than I would've otherwise..makes a big difference in your corkscrews and torque rolls.
Chef:
Yeah yeah! They'll be going today!

FDA: Maybe not just the kids, some adults will want to do it too!
Chef:
Yeah! And that's part of it too, you know, that airplane was dominant in the 60s... 1968, '69, '70, I was born in 1968, and so that's 50 years this year, you know what I mean? So that's a kinda neat part about this year, especially, is you've got 50 years since that airplane was dominant, and like you just said, it took me almost 50 years to be able to do this, and I had to build the airplane myself to do it, because I couldn't buy it.

FDA: How long did that take you?
Chef:
3 years. I bought the fuselage frame from my aerobatic instructor; the frame was standing up in the corner of his hanger for a long time, and every time I'd go fly with him I'd look at it, and finally I bought it and finished the airplane.

FDA: That's the difference between somebody that wants to do something and someone that has a dream and follows it.
Chef:
Right! Just gotta keep doin it... I got this little writing exercise I did when I was in 3rd grade, you know, [to] write this little composition, in this third grader block printing, and it amounted to "I wanna have a Pitts and fly to Florida" [laughter] I was talking to another airshow pilot in Vero and he was like "Yeah, you gotta have a plan, no matter how crude it is, if you have a plan, you have a chance of following it through.”

FDA: One more question, what type of food...
Chef:
Oh man I get that a lot... I never have a good answer for them.

FDA: What's your favorite food to eat then?
Chef:
I don't know. I like it all, really.

FDA: Food is food?
Chef:
I mean, yeah! I like seafood...I like it all! Steak, seafood and stuff, Thai food, Japanese food is good, I like that kinda stuff...there's a real good sushi restaurant in my hometown that I frequent [laughs] but I made a little bit of everything when I was cooking, you know, doin’ different theme dinners and parties so you get to learn about different cultures and whatever, just doing that just for fun, just for something to learn, you know? So it's all good!