Steve Wittman

HomeBuiltAirplanes.com

Help Support HomeBuiltAirplanes.com:

TFF

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 28, 2010
Messages
14,345
Location
Memphis, TN
No stories, but if someone does not know, at least in passing, his achievements in aviation, they don't know one of the shoulders they are standing on.
 

Little Scrapper

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Log Member
Joined
Jan 3, 2014
Messages
5,894
Location
Wisconsin
The first time in a Cub I fell in love with Tube & Fabric airplanes. When I discovered Steve Wittman, saw what he did, read about him and his history I mentally committed myself to old school building.

I never met Steve but I live an hour from Oshkosh so I'm surrounded by guys who knew him personally. Most are 80+ years old now.

One story I heard that I really liked went something like this......

'A bunch of us were eating breakfast at a cafe' and we stuffed ourselves with food. Steve loved to laugh and we sat in the cafe' for hours eating and drinking coffee. We ate so much nobody felt they could fly so we walked over on the grass at the airport (wittman field) and just laid down on our backs looking up at the sky. Steve broke from the conversation and said "I wanna be buried right here, right on this spot in the grass".

Not a riveting story by any means but it does paint a picture of the kinda guy Steve was. Almost kidish and certainly young at heart, at least that's the impression I got.

He was notoriously cheap, I've heard a few of those stories as well.

He certainly had a great smile and attitude towards life. Often times as people age they get bitter and judgemental and cynical etc. From what I understand Steve didn't, he was truly a good guy. Guys like that are rare in life.
 

Turd Ferguson

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 13, 2008
Messages
5,522
Location
Upper midwest in a house
I bought some Tailwind plans from Wittman in the later '80's. After studying them for a couple months, I wrote a letter for clarification on a couple things. Surprisingly, he called me back on the phone. He would have been 82-84 y/o. He was sharp as a tack and was quick witted with the humor. I could have been right at home hanging out with that guy. Anyway, he followed up with a letter answering my questions I had written, he said he called to give me the quick version so it wouldn't hold up my project!

Wow, today he'd be 113 yrs old?
 

Little Scrapper

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Log Member
Joined
Jan 3, 2014
Messages
5,894
Location
Wisconsin
I bought some Tailwind plans from Wittman in the later '80's. After studying them for a couple months, I wrote a letter for clarification on a couple things. Surprisingly, he called me back on the phone. He would have been 82-84 y/o. He was sharp as a tack and was quick witted with the humor. I could have been right at home hanging out with that guy. Anyway, he followed up with a letter answering my questions I had written, he said he called to give me the quick version so it wouldn't hold up my project!

Wow, today he'd be 113 yrs old?
Thanks for sharing. I kinda doubt many of the people on this forum care much about old airplane designs or legacy pilots from that era. I really do, I think it's the ultimate in aviation.
 

BJC

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Joined
Oct 7, 2013
Messages
12,697
Location
97FL, Florida, USA
Steve was talking to a small group of people about pylon racing. When asked about the challenges that his blind left eye caused, he got a devilish grin on his face and replied that he believed it actually worked to his favor, since his competitors were afraid to try to pass him on the inside.


BJC
 

Pops

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Log Member
Joined
Jan 1, 2013
Messages
8,909
Location
USA.
Back in the late 70's or early 80's I send for the Tailwind brochure and Steve autographed it, still have it with other old aviation items.
 

lr27

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 3, 2007
Messages
3,822
I want a time machine so I can go back and tell him to dope dacron differently.
 

Little Scrapper

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Log Member
Joined
Jan 3, 2014
Messages
5,894
Location
Wisconsin
I want a time machine so I can go back and tell him to dope dacron differently.
Steve was cheap. It was expired product that was the problem, some feel that being cheap ultimately caused the problem.
 

dcstrng

Well-Known Member
Joined
Oct 17, 2010
Messages
913
Location
VA or NoDak
Happy birthday Steve Wittman... I wish I could have met him...
Thanks for posting this, I try to snatch anything remotely Wittman/Tailwind/Buttercup/V-Witt/etc., for a YouTube list – I missed my chance to meet Steve at my one trip at Oshkosh and regrettably don’t have any stories to relate (although several over on the Tailwind forum knew him well enough to chime in from time to time) but it sure is hard to look through his plans and planes and not see the go-fast genius in them.
 

Raceair

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 25, 2014
Messages
742
Location
Gilbert, S.C. USA
For Wittman fans, Jim Vliet, (serious Wittman Historian) has indicated that he may hold a forum at OSH this year...Steve Wittman will be the topic....Jim has quite a bit of history and first hand Wittman lore to discuss.....I am looking forward to it.......
 

Raceair

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 25, 2014
Messages
742
Location
Gilbert, S.C. USA
Interesting comment about Wittman using old (expired) dope. I always thought that the fabric adhesion problem was from improper use, because of mixing different, non compatible systems...(Stits Vinyl based products with Dope products)
 

TFF

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 28, 2010
Messages
14,345
Location
Memphis, TN
From what I remember it was mixing that started the problem, but he was flying with the known problem for something like ten hours, waiting to get back to Oshkosh to fix it.
 

TarDevil

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 29, 2010
Messages
842
Location
Coastal North Carolina/USA
I met Steve in Tullahoma, TN, 1980 at the EAA event they held there previously. He was readying his Tailwind, I stuck my head in on the passenger side and shook hands. He had a huge, engaging smile. I'm privileged to have met him.
 

Little Scrapper

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Log Member
Joined
Jan 3, 2014
Messages
5,894
Location
Wisconsin
There's various stories, none of which can really be verified. I do know a few people who were present during this situation and there's uncertainty with actual facts. There's one fact that definitely exists and that was that it was wrong and was warned about it both prior and during. I do recall the conversation of using inappropriate methods but I do know for a fact aged materials were used. Maybe it was a combination of both.

There's a lesson here regardless. Nobody is exempt from making mistakes and protocol should be followed on critical components. The one fortunate thing about this is he died far above the average age of 78 year old male. It's really remarkable actually.
 

Little Scrapper

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Log Member
Joined
Jan 3, 2014
Messages
5,894
Location
Wisconsin
He's a great story teller.
[video=youtube_share;cd1ZpbM-Gf8]https://youtu.be/cd1ZpbM-Gf8[/video]
 

Turd Ferguson

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 13, 2008
Messages
5,522
Location
Upper midwest in a house
Not trying to start controversy and I suppose the real story will never be known:

I eves dropped on a conversation Jimmy Leeward was having with someone and there was a "think group" that seems to believe the plane experienced flutter, which caused the fabric to be torn off on a large scale as the structure failed. The NTSB is convinced the fabric tore off first due to faulty application, which caused flutter. Leeward indicated that he and others personally examined the wreckage and their explanation is valid. Flutter and fabric detachment is agreed by both sides, there is disagreement on which came first.

The NTSB reached their conclusion because the complete line of stits/polyfiber products was not used from start to finish. They determined this by locating an ink stamp on the fabric (that is they examined all the fabric in the wreckage until they found a brand marking. Had the ink stamp not been found, the fabric would have been classified as "uncertified polyester" which would have weakened a "didn't follow the manual" argument. (Other sources say only some of the fabric was Stits branded; the rest was generic polyester Steve had lying around). Ray Stits indicated it would have been better had the ink stamped fabric not been found, however, in his testimony to the NTSB he stated the process used would not offer the best adhesion to a plywood surface (partly because that is how the question was asked). Based on the information Steve had when he built the plane, I would not fault him for his choices in covering; polyester fabric and butyrate dope on plywood was an accepted practice then, provided the dope was properly thinned to penetrate the wood. Steve knew what he was doing.

Rewind ~2yrs before the accident, I was looking at the O&O at OSH. The fabric finish on the top of the wings was poorly executed. May have been partly due to age of the covering at that point. The dope was mottled and the fabric had lifted off the wing's plywood covering in several places where one could "drum" on the fabric. Not sure if that was due to products used, bad/expired/wrong type or just poor workmanship. Walking Wittman historian, Jim S. (and that is intended respectfully) indicated Steve was aware of the wing fabric and planned to recover the wings in the near future. However, the plane flew for a long time in that condition (>2yrs) which undermines the NTSB theory that this was a sudden/catastrophic failure event.

There are a couple of attempts to re-create the O&O airplane. The party in GA that purchased the O&O wreckage and drew plans for the airplane has an example under construction. There was another mostly complete airplane (may have flown) but the status is unknown. At some point in the future, there should be O&O replicas flying. While I would hate to see one discover a flutter mode by accident, there would be a certain satisfaction in knowing it exists because the NTSB is not the all knowing wizard as some believe.
 

Kevin N

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 23, 2015
Messages
820
Location
Your Moms basement
The one O & O replica was being built in KY by Rick Crosslin. Sort of local to me. I never knew why he got so far and didn't finish. It was nice work and he had selected a 360 Continental for the airplane. Rick's Tailwind was very nice and I'm sure if he finished the O & O it would've been as well.
 
Top