You never know what airplanes will show up at the Antique Airplane Association/Airpower Museum’s (AAA/APM) Invitational Fly-In at Blakesburg, Iowa — and that’s just part of the fun of being there.
When you think Antique Airfield, you expect to see antiques — but you’ll also see experimental aircraft and legacy homebuilts. A couple of years ago, one of Ray Stit’s homebuilt designs, a Flut-R-Bug, was at the field. This year, another Stits design came flying in — a Stits Playboy — thanks to pilot Pat Schmitz from Albion, Nebraska.
Chances are you may never have seen a Stits Playboy up close. There are only about 30 SA-3As and 20 SA-3Bs on the registry, so these are pretty rare birds.
It’s a single-place airplane with strut-braced low wings, and was one of several popular homebuilt aircraft during the 1950s and 1960s.
The fabric-covered Playboy was either plans-built or constructed from partial kits. The airframe consists of a welded steel tube fuselage and wood wings, all covered with fabric.
The Playboy measures 17′, 4″ from nose to tail, has a wingspan of 22′, 2″, and has a height of 6′, 4″. It weighs 600 pounds empty, with a gross weight of 902 pounds.
While it’s typically powered by an 85-hp Continental, it can handle more horsepower, or in this case, a little less — Pat’s plane (N96J) has a 65-hp Continental A-65-8.
A Bit of History
Ray Stits, who was instrumental in the modern homebuilding movement, designed 15 small airplanes from 1948 through 1965. In 1952, he designed and built the single-place Stits SA-3A Playboy. It was his third aircraft design, and a subsequent variation was the two-place, side-by-side Stits SA-3B Playboy in 1954 (his fifth design).
Stits also developed the Stits covering and coatings process, now known as Poly-Fiber. He eventually sold the Poly-Fiber business to Alexander Aeroplane Company, owned by Ron Alexander at the time.
Stits established EAA Chapter One at Flabob Airport in Riverside, California. In 1962, he received the August Raspet Memorial Award and in 1994, he was inducted into the EAA Homebuilders Hall of Fame.
Though Stits passed away in 2015, his outstanding contributions to aviation remain widespread in the homebuilding and restoration community and industry. For example, the Stits SA-3A Playboy served as a catalyst for Richard VanGrunsven, who, after modifying and improving the Playboy in 1965 (and calling it an RV-1), was further inspired to build an airplane of his own design — the RV-3, which was the first of what has become the most popular line of homebuilt aircraft.
Pat bought his Stits Playboy just one month before flying it to Antique Airfield.
“I picked it up in Joliet, just outside of Chicago, and flew it home to Albion,” he says. “There’s another Playboy at the Albion airport as well.”
“I’m not really sure why I wanted this airplane,” he continues. “Basically, I wanted my wheel in the back not the front. And my wife is not so much into flying anymore, so if I’m flying alone most of the time, a single seat doesn’t bother me.”
“Plus, I just wanted to try something different,” he adds. “I like the simplicity of a 65 horse with no electrical system, so you have to hand prop it to start the engine. This has a Warp Drive carbon fiber prop.”
Pat’s Playboy was built in 1961 by Vern Murphy of South Haven, Michigan, and got its permanent airworthiness certificate in 1964.
“I think I’m like the fifth owner,” he says.
Pat says he is pleased with the Playboy’s flying characteristics.
“All in all, it’s pretty easy to fly,” he says. “It’s responsive, but yet not light on the controls, so that it’s not a problem. The tail is extremely light, so even on run up you have to be careful to hold the tail down, or she’ll want to nose over. I noticed out here, when I swung around the corner at the end of the field to take off, I wasn’t holding the tail down enough. The tail wanted to come up because of the restriction of the wheels on the soft turf. But overall, it seems to handle really easy. I had no real adaptation to getting into it and flying it. I’ve got quite a bit of tailwheel time, though.”
Pat also has a Cherokee he’s been flying for a while, and he used to have a prewar Aeronca Chief with a 65 hp Continental – the same engine as the Playboy, with no electrical system.
Though Pat is enjoying flying his Stits Playboy — which, incidentally, is open cockpit with a windscreen as opposed to the typical sliding canopy enclosure — he’s not certain how long he’ll keep it.
“It’s fun to fly, and I have a 900′ strip where I live out on the farm, so in this airplane, I can fly in and out of there,” he says. “But the field is a little short for the Cherokee, so that stays at the Albion airport, while this one stays at the farm. The Playboy is rated for aerobatics, but it doesn’t have inverted fuel or oil, so you’d have to stay with positive Gs, and with 65 horses there are limits to what it can do.”
Pat’s flight home from Blakesburg had him flying part of the way in light rain, and he says he “was pleased to discover that you stay dry as long as you don’t have to land in the rain. The cabin heat actually works very well, even without the canopy covering the cockpit, so I hope to do a bit of winter flying as long as the temperature is above freezing.”