The Spirit of Curtis
In A Plane That Bears His Name
In a world of kit planes, each making more outrageous performance claims and promising faster build times than the rest, one airplane stands out: the Pitts Model 12. Jim and Kevin Kimball of Zellwood, Fla., have been selling Model 12 plans and kits since 1997. An impressive 45 of the aerobatic biplanes are either under construction or have been completed another 155 people have purchased plans. The Model 12 was designed by master builder Curtis Pitts of Pitts Special fame, but there are some big differences between the Pitts Special and the Model 12. The Pitts Special line ran on standard piston engines. The big Model 12 was designed around a growly, round Russian radial, the 360-hp Vedeneyev M-14P.
"A lot of the questions we get are about the M-14P," company Vice President Kevin Kimball tells AVweb. "We try to convince people of the engines' reliability. We designed the plane around the engine. Using anything else would be a compromise." In spite of the fact that the Model 12 was designed for the M-14P, Pitts designed the airframe for more. "Curtis told us if you give some people an anvil, they'll learn how to break it. He knew someone would try to hang a 985-hp engine on it, so he made it strong enough. There's a lot of strength built-in we don't even advertise." In the next breath, Kimball confirms that someone is indeed converting the 2-seat Model 12 to a one-seater and hanging a 985-hp on it. Anvil, anyone?
The Model 12: It's All In The Family
Dad Jim, the 'Jim' in Jim Kimball, Inc., is the company's President, and the one who fostered Kevin's love of all things flying. Their business actually started as a hobby, but after father and son rebuilt a Stearman and then a Staggerwing, planes-for-pay followed. Over the past twenty years, they have done dozens of restorations and replicas, including Baron Hilton's Staggerwing, a museum-quality Weddell-Williams; and, a Gee Bee, which was ultimately purchased by Kermit Weeks. Kimball, Inc., is about as good as it gets when it comes to older planes. In fact, the restoration portion of their business is backlogged over two years.
They are working long hours to prevent a backlog with the Model 12. "When we started, we needed to sell twelve kits to break even. If we sell 50, we will exceed all expectations." As of Sunday at AirVenture, the kit total was up to 32. They are currently selling product before they can produce it. "As soon as we get to the point where we produce a batch that isn't sold, then we'll know we've hit a plateau."
At that point, Kimball Inc. will turn to other projects. "We're still having fun, we're still growing the business. We're adding a convertible top, making our instruction manuals better, adding digital pictures. We've got a few different things we're thinking about one's a biplane, three aren't." Good people. A popular airplane. The Pitts stamp of approval.Customers on the list. Some might say this is as good as it gets. For the Kimballs, though, it could be just the beginning.