I was often advised by pilots around
the airport to recruit another pilot to fly
Junior, and Bill Haddock, weighing
about 170 pounds, asked to take it
out and make taxi runs. He was soon
lifting off, flying down the runway, and
landing with no problem. I then called
a CAA Representative in Grand
Rapids, and asked him to observe the
flights to give us an Experimental
Airworthiness Certificate. Bill
demonstrated Junior to the CAA, and
we received our Airworthiness
Certificate, but he was unable to
travel and fly Junior in airshows due
to the demands of his busy crop
dusting and spraying business.

An airport friend, Norm Walker, said
he knew a 170- pound pilot who might
be willing to fly the Junior at airshows,
and a few days later Bob Starr
showed up at the airport. After a pre-
flight briefing, he climbed in, flew it
around the pattern, and made several
landings. We agreed that he would fly
it as an airshow act called “The World’
s Smallest Aircraft” and we’d split the
pay 50/50.
In January 1950 Junior flew in a big
airshow called the Miami All Amer-
ican Air Maneuvers at Opa Locka,
Florida, which resulted in worldwide
publicity, and many requests for
blueprints to build a duplicate of the
Junior. This indicated a ready market
for blueprints, and possibly a kit for a
slightly larger sport airplane, so in
summer 1950 I started laying out the
basic design for thei
    proposed new aircraft. We did
    airshows within 400 miles of Battle
    Creek, pulling Junior on a trailer and
    doing flight demonstrations for
    magazines. Bert Fox, owner of the
    Flying School, also flew Junior in
    formation with Bill Haddock in his AT
    -10 for aerial photos.
       That summer I tried to negotiate a
    lease on a vacant 60-ft. by 60-ft.
    hangar with a basement and furnace
    that Mr. Kellogg built for his aircraft in
    the 1930s. I’d wanted to continue my
    maintenance and repair business
    through the winter and build the new
    sport plane, but as cold weather
    approached, I finally got the message
    that the Airport Board didn’t want
    competition with another aircraft
    repair shop operator who was very
    well connected in city politics.
        I decided to move back to my
    hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, where
    winter weather and politics were not
    major obstacles to aircraft operations.
    Bob Starr sold his Crop Dusting
    Business and also moved to Phoenix
    to fly the Junior at airshows
    throughout the west. During my
    travels with the 8’ 10”-wingspan
    airplane on a trailer, I was often
    stopped by the Highway Patrol or
    Sheriff who’d read about
    Junior and just wanted to see the
    airplane up close. (Its wingspan was
    wider than the maximum allowed for
    trailering in every state, but the over
    width was never mentioned.)
        In Phoenix I took a job rebuilding a
    crashed Johnson Rocket, and Junior
    flew in several local air shows making
    more flight demonstrations for the
    press. When the Rocket was finished
    I went to Tucson and worked at
    Grand Central Aircraft returning
    mothballed B-29s to flight status. Bob
    Starr also moved to Tucson, worked
    at Grand Central, and continued his
    demonstration flights for the
         By the time I moved to Tucson, the
    new Sport Plane design work was
Page 2

Ray Stits: A Man and His
Aircraft - The Real Story
(Although aviation magazines in the
1950s sometimes reported that
handling the Stits Junior and Sky
Baby was difficult, in the hands of a
competent pilot, they were easy
airplanes to fly. Here, for the first
time, is the true story of the
development of these unique designs
as told first-hand by the aviation
pioneer who created them, Ray Stits.

– Mike Machat)

While working at Kellog Field in Battle
Creek, Michigan in summer 1948, I
maintained Battle Creek Flying
School aircraft and performed repairs
and modifications on a wide range of
other airplanes. During a Saturday
morning bull session” at the school,
the subject of very small aircraft came
up, and the question was raised:  
“What was the smallest airplane that
anyone knew of that flew
Someone mentioned a 13-foot
wingspan racer built by Steve
Whitman, the Tandem Wing Flying
Flea, and other designs. After
everyone offered their opinion, I
asked a rhetorical question: If I was to
build an aircraft with a 10- foot 10-
inch wingspan, and a 10-foot 10-inch
fuselage, would it be the “World’s
Smallest Airplane?” One self
proclaimed aviation expert said, “Stits,
you can't do it!” and that was all the
incentive I needed to finally start an
aircraft project I’d long thought about
I found that the most suitable engine
available was an Aeronca, two-
cylinder, horizontally opposed, E 13C,
single-ignition powerplant rated at 40
horsepower. I decided the airplane
would be low wing, and to keep the
wing loading low I needed a
lightweight pilot as well. A small 120-
pound pilot volunteered for the job, so
I designed the center of gravity for a
120-lb. pilot sitting in a 15-inch-wide
        That airplane was named the Stits
    Junior. I built it in 90 days, and made
    fast taxi tests to check the engine and  
    directional control with a three-inch tail
    wheel, but my 200-pound weight
    prevented me from lifting the tail to
    check rudder control. The airplane
    was ready for a test flight the day
    before Thanksgiving 1948, and the
    pilot, who shall remain nameless, lifted
    off after a short run and successfully
    flew down the runway about ten feet
    in the air. In the flare, however, he
    over-controlled and dropped it in
    breaking the landing gear and prop.
        During repairs, I installed a 65-HP
    Continental engine because there was
    too much engine vibration with no
    shock-absorbing mounts as used on
    the Aeronca engine when mounted in
    a very light airplane. The heavier
    engine moved the center of' gravity
    forward raising the maximum pilot
    weight to 170 pounds, but this
    required a 35-pound sack of small
    rocks to be put in the seat as ballast
    to prevent nosing over when the pilot
    stepped out. I didn’t want to move the
    landing gear forward because it was
    in the right location with the pilot
        The second and third flights at
    about ten feet above the runway were
    successful, but the fourth flight at
    about 50 feet ended in a high flair and
    a second crash landing. The pilot
    suggested that more rudder area was
    needed for better directional control
    when the tail wheel was off the
    runway, so I added six inches to the
    rudder, which increased overall length
    to 11’ 4.” Repairs were made and the
    fifth test flight around the airport lasted
    about 15 minutes, but again ended
    with a high flair and third crash
    landing. While repairing the damage
    this time, I removed the wingtip bows
    and added end plates to give more lift
    and provide greater aileron response.
    This reduced the wingspan to 8’ 10”.
Page 1
The following article was taken from "The Leading Edge" newsletter, Feb.
2012 edition from EAA Chapter 1000. A thank you for permission to publish
this article here goes to Russ Erb of EAA Chapter 1000.
I started to collect materials to build
the aircraft I named the Playboy, and
found that aircraft-quality materials,
such as 4130 Chromalloy tubing,
aircraft-grade spruce, plywood, and
hardware, all had to be shipped from
Los Angeles on special order
because there were no aircraft
material distributors in Tucson. It
became obvious that if I was going to
build airplanes, I needed to move
closer to the source of materials.
I began researching suitable
locations in California, wanting to
locate on a main shipping route, but
not too close to big city congestion.
Riverside had a population of 54,000
people with all the main chain stores,
and was on a major highway and rail
line 50 miles from Los Angeles. In
February 1951 Bob and I drove to
Riverside to check it out, and went to
a private airport called Arlington
Riverside (now Riverside Municipal)
where there was just one hangar and
the atmosphere wasn’t very friendly.
We went to another private airport
across the river called West
Riverside, and found a much
friendlier environment. This airport
had four hangars and a small cement-
block office building, and I was
offered a vacant hangar for $15-per-
month, so I took it. We went back to
Tucson, gave notice at Grand
Central Aircraft, and on March 1,
1951, the Junior was hangared at
West Riverside, later named Flabob
Airport, a contraction of the first
names of its two owners.
During our airshow travels I learned
that Arnold Cole, a former member of
the famous Cole Brothers Air Show,
was living in Riverside. He was Vice
President of Pacific Air Races, and
was well-involved in the airshow
business. I contacted him and made
arrangements to meet at the airport
to demonstrate Junior in anticipation
of adding it to his airshow program.
The visibility that day was about a
mile in fog. Bob took off and made
the usual
    high-speed pass upwind over the
    runway, but then carburetor ice formed
    and the engine lost about 50-percent
    power by the time he was turning
    downwind. He couldn't maintain
    altitude and set it down in a soft field
    between parallel irrigation channels,
    but while rolling out, drifted into a
    channel border and ground looped,
    damaging the wings, tail, and landing
         With airshow income now
    eliminated, Bob and I went to Pacific
    Airmotive Corp. in Chino where C-54
    Skymasters were being overhauled for
    the military, and I hired on to the night
    shift so I could work on my own
    projects during daylight hours. Rather
    than rebuild Junior for the fourth time, I
    decided to postpone construction of
    the long-planned Playboy and build an
    even smaller  airplane, but this time, a
    biplane for airshow work.
       To reduce the distance the pilot sits
    aft of the wing  center-of-lift, as with
    the Junior, I moved the seat forward
    with the rudder pedals on each side of
    the well-baffled carburetor. I also
    decided to avoid a repeat of the
    carburetor icing problem by installing a
    second engine primer to inject
    isopropyl alcohol into the carburetor air
    box to melt any ice. After two months
    of design work, I was ready to start
    building what I named the Sky Baby,
    and Bob agreed to furnish the
    Continental engine, assist on the
    project, and fly the airplane in
    airshows, again for half of the pay.
       I designed the CG to accommodate
    my own weight and planned to do all
    the flight testing myself. It had long
    been my policy to test fly each aircraft I
    made major repairs or modifications to,
    and by 1950 I’d flown every military
    war surplus primary, basic, and
    advanced trainer. However, I hadn’t
    earned a Commercial Pilot Certificate
    which was required for a pilot to be
    paid for flying in airshows.
       We went to Jack Hardwick Aircraft
    in El Monte, and Bob bought a run-out
    C85-8 Continental for $400. During
Page 3
I upgraded it to the Continental
Racing Engine specifications which
were rated at 112 HP at 3600 RPM.
Having shared work experience, I
kept track of Bob’s time spent on the
project. Total time was 127 hours
during the first four months of the
project, which took me thirteen
months to finish. The landing gear
was built with 4-inch wide
by 3/8-inch thick leaf spring for the
nose gear and main gear, and during
my high-speed taxi tests the leaf
spring on the steerable nose gear,
positioned 18 inches forward of the
main gear, would twist, causing a
steering problem.
A big airshow was advertised in
Detroit, and I wanted to finish the
airplane in time, so rather than
redesigning and building a new nose
gear, I installed a seven pound tail
wheel and spring assembly, and
removed the 18-pound nose gear
assembly. The main gear was moved
forward, and this major weight shift
reduced the maximum pilot weight to
170 pounds to stay within aft CG
limits, eliminating me from flying the
(Editor’s Note: A current website
shows photos of the Sky Baby with a
caption reading:
“The designer didn’t
even trust his own extensive flying
skills enough to fly the airplane. A
veteran pilot named Bob Star (sic)
flew the airplane and managed
speeds over 200 miles per hour.”
Quotes like this are how such
misconceptions are spread.)
Except for the final color coat, the
Sky Baby was finished, so we took it
to Chino Airport to perform high
speed taxi tests and liftoffs. I then
called Roy Outcen, the CAA
representative at Ontario, to ask him
to observe our flying, and Sky Baby
was issued an Experimental
Airworthiness Certificate on June 25,

After all the flying and CAA
demonstrations we did at Chino, we
took the Sky Baby to Palm Springs to
make the first public flight
demonstration for the newspapers
and magazines. After receiving good
press coverage, I got many calls for
demonstration flights, but postponed
any further flying until the red-and-
white sunburst color coats were
finished. We then spent almost every
Saturday at Chino performing flight
demonstrations for various
magazines and movie newsreels.
I contacted the airshow management
in Detroit and got a contract for Sky
Baby to fly at the big three-day show
there. After that show, all the
magazines had their stories written
and requests for demonstration
flights ended, so I decided to retire
Sky Baby and start on the long-
planned Playboy project which was
the main reason I left Michigan.
Lester Cole, a former member of the
famous Cole Brothers Air Show, had
asked to fly Sky Baby. He’d never
flown anything smaller than a clipped-
wing J-3 Cub. A few
days before I removed Bob's engine
from Sky Baby, Lester Cole, Arnold
Cole and I took it to Chino. Lester,
weighing about 170 pounds, flew it
around the pattern reporting no
unusual characteristics. Sky Baby
was retired in October 1952 with
about 25 hours total flying time, and
was later donated to the Smithsonian
National Air and Space Museum.
The airplane is currently on loan to
the EAA Museum at Oshkosh,
      The Stits Junior accumulated about
    55 hours of flying time, and its
    damaged structure was eventually
    Contrary to exaggerated magazine
    stories giving the false impression
    that only very skilled pilots could fly
    Sky Baby and Junior, they were not
    very difficult to fly. Being short
    airplanes, directional control on the
    ground required
    a little more attention than did longer
    airplanes, but any competent pilot
    could easily fly them, with pilot
    weight   being the only limitation. The
    key word here is "competent."
       In 1955 I received a letter from a
    publisher’s representative in New
    York advising me of a new publication
    called The Guinness Book of World
    Records, saying I was listed in it, and
    asking me to buy a copy. After the
    book was in circulation, other people
    built small airplanes to claim the title
    of “World’s Smallest.” Some crashed
    after climbing out of ground effect,
    and one claimed to have made it
    around the pattern once, but as of
    this date, none have been repeatedly
    demonstrated at air shows or other
    large public gatherings, as were the
    Sky Baby and Junior.
       It is my opinion that Sky Baby (7’ 2”
    span; 9’ 10” length), and Junior (8”
    10” span; 11’ 4” length), are the world’
    s smallest successful biplane and
    monoplane. "Successful" means
    having flown routinely without any
    accidents or damage caused by
    design defects. Webster’s Dictionary
    defines an aircraft as "any structure
    or machine designed to travel through
    the air.” Therefore, by definition, any
    structure or machine claimed to be an
    "aircraft"  doesn't actually have to fly,
    and can claim that title just by sitting
    in a hangar or museum with a sign on
       It is also my opinion that anyone
    who has the courage and ambition to
    design and build an airplane, whether
    it flies successfully or not, deserves a
    lot of credit for his or her efforts.
    - Ray Stits
Page 4
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