In the Air with a Pitts

Prose: James Woodard
Photography: James Woodard & Ryan Kelly

Thanks to our good friend Adam Messenheimer, Full Disc Aviation was asked to provide some air-to-air photography for Aviat Aircraft. Aviat is the manufacturer of Pitts aircraft as well as homebuilt aerobatic aircraft the Eagle, and what Aviat claims is America's favorite tail dragger, the Husky. The Pitts S2C model that Adam flies was factory built in 2017 and is an excellent example of Aviat's quality manufacturing artistry. When the request for Pitts images came across the desk of North American Pitts salesman Bill Finigan, he knew where to look. Bill has over 16,000 hours as a Pitts instructional pilot and has worked with Adam for the past two years, helping him master the aerobatic skills necessary to win aerobatic competitions and impress audiences on the airshow circuit.

The original plan was to have Adam and Bill (in his own Pitts) fly formation for the photo flight, but things didn't work out with the planned photoship. To accomplish this mission, Bill was kind enough to remove the door on his own Piper Lance and fly as the photoship with Adam as the only photo subject. Ryan Kelly and I arrived at Leesburg Executive Airport mid-afternoon to begin briefing the flight. With Leesburg being Adam's home base, he took the lead with planning the flight route, asking for our input and planning the flight around what type of shots we had in mind.

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During the briefing, the weather became a slight concern with several storms developing in the surrounding areas. However, we agreed that we make the first flight right after the briefing and if the weather allowed, the second flight that would be a bonus. Our excitement grew as we strapped into the rear-facing seats of Bill's Piper Lance. After going over all the safety measures with Bill, we fired up the engines and taxied out. Adam requested a two-ship takeoff from the controller and after we received the clearance, our revs climbed and we started down the runway. In clear view from our photoship, we were offered the unique perspective of watching Adam take to the air in his Pitts just a few feet from us.

Before we knew it, the mission had begun and we were in the air. Focused on Adam through the viewfinder and ripping off shots, I blanked out the fact that we were in a plane with no door approaching an elevation of 2,000ft. As someone who is less than fond of heights, this was an accomplishment for me. Flying over the beautiful landscape of Loudoun County, Virginia as well as the Harper's Ferry area of West Virginia offered some spectacular scenery for Adam's bright red Pitts. We followed the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. After about 30 minutes of flight, we had noticed that the weather had deteriorated around Leesburg. As soon as we made the turn to head east again, we could see the wall of darkness due east of the airport. We landed and got both planes safely in the hangar before the winds picked up, however, the rain never did hit Leesburg.

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Still hoping to get a second flight in during golden hour light, we decided to grab a bite to eat and see if the weather would pass. Afterwards, we returned to the airport and were happy to have clear skies once again. We decided the second flight was a go. Once we were in the air again, the golden light hit the prop of the Pitts perfectly, and we knew we made a good decision. Flying the same path as before, we knew what to expect, but were no less excited about it.

Throughout the second flight, we tried to take in the experience a little more, appreciating the beautiful landscape 2000 feet below us. The early evening light warmed up the colors on the Pitts while muting everything below, playing with contrast across the tops of the Virginia hills. We returned to the airport and landed, taxiing back to the hangar as the sun dropped below the trees.

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We debriefed with everyone back at the hangar. Bill had came in from Annapolis and he needed to get home, so together we helped Bill get the door installed on the Lance so he could make one more flight for the day. Full Disc Aviation would like to thank Adam Messenheimer and Erik Voss once again for allowing us to be a part of his Pitts journey. Another huge thank you belongs to Bill Finegan for flying the photo-ship; it would not have been possible without him. We look forward to working with both Adam and Bill again in the future on more incredible adventures.