A Stitts Skycoupe Restoration Project

The Stitts Skycoupe is also known as Stitts SA7 D

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Team SA7 Visits Mud Flats International

On Saturday, May 28th, 2011, Terry Gardner, Kent Misegades, Noel Fallwell, Konrad Schoen, Niels & Judy Nielsen and Sam Arbes traveled to the Johnston County airport where they met EAA506 president Joe Mancusi and mechanic Mr. Lee. Their mission : locate an inspect an early Skycoupe owned by its co-builder, Mr. William Talton of Smithfield. The photos below show what we found. Here are a few specifics:

  1. The airplane was built by a group of four men from Smithfield in the early 1960s. It was completed around 1963-1964 and is one of the oldest Skycoupes in our area.
  2. The builders started their work prior to building the airstrip where it is located, known simply as "Mud Flats International". You won't find the airstrip on the charts, but it is easy to see on Google Maps (satellite image), just south of the I-95/US70 interchange, off Mallard Rd. It is a well-manicured, 3,000+ foot turf runway surrounded by collapsed hangars and a variety of interesting old machines, vehicles, and airplane parts.
  3. The only surviving hangar housed a recently restored Super Cub, and, in the back corner under a thick layer of dirt and dust, the Skycoupe we came to see.
  4. Our host, Mr. Lee, had maintained and flown the aircraft up to 2005, when an engine fire on a cold morning grounded the airplane indefinitely. While the engine would need major work to get running, the airframe suffered no damage from the fire and could probably be restored/rebuilt.
  5. A number of pictures were taken of various details, which will serve us well in the restoration of our own Skycoupe.
  6. The engine is the same as ours, a Lycoming O-290-D. Mr. Lee reports that the plane gets off the ground quickly and he had only good things to say about it.
  7. The airplane' prop, undamaged from the fire (we think) was a Sensenich 72 X 50, Model M76AM4, Serial Number 140006.
  8. As far as handling is concerned, Lee noted that the thin ailerons result in a fair amount of adverse yaw - pilots need to use the rudder. We believe that our Skycoupe incorporates ailerons of larger chord, one of the improvements made by Stits in the early 1960s after this plane in Smithfield was built.
We learned a great deal from this trip, and it was sad to reflect on what must have been a very active airfield in our area at one time, now essentially defunct. The fellows who built this airplane a half century ago were true pioneers, with little more than a set of plans and their own mechanical abilities to rely upon. Ray Stits was known to have skimped on detailed builder directions in his designs, believing that a builder who needed these probably shouldn't be constructing an airplane. How times have changed!

The best part of Mud Flats International: 3000 feet of smooth turf.

Talton's Skycoupe uses the same Lycoming O-290-D as in ours. This one suffered a carb fire 6 years ago that grounded the plane.

Close-up of the 125 HP Lycoming O-290-D. 12V generator can be seen behind gear on prop flange, same as on our engine.

Talton's Skycoupe must have had a fairly advanced panel for a homebuilt from the early 1960s.

Original, hardware-store wheels and tires, typical of a Stits design, all known for being low-cost and simple. Note brake line along front tube, an advancement over the simple mechanical "friction band" in the original plans.

Mold used for canopy. The last builder of our Skycoupe, Mr. Oppegaard from Garner, borrowed this mold for his work in the 1990s according to the records we found.

Terry Gardner checks out the remains of a Stinson 108 at Mud Flats International. He was heard to mutter, "Looks nearly complete! We can get it flying again, no problem."

This is the original-style nosegear, all scratch built. Later versions, like ours, use components from production aircraft.

Terry takes some pictures of the interior.

This simple strap is one of the hinges for the ailerons, themselves little more than formed aluminum riveted to a half-span torque tube. Simple, cheap & effective.

This is what we found upon arriving at Mud Flats International - a boneyard of machinery, equipment, rusting vehicles and airplane parts. 40 years ago this was a bustling airstrip with 20+ airplanes in hangars and a large grassy tie-down area, back when the local tobacco industry was thriving and allowed local farmers to pursue their aviation interests.

Agent Konrad Schoen, who found Talton's Skycoupe through masterful sleuthing. In his younger life, Konrad made a living finding old Gypsy Moths and similar aircraft in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Oh, the stories he can tell!

Below: this recently-restored SupeCub was in the front of the hangar, and is now for sale.


  1. I Quote from above:
    "Ray Stits was known to have skimped on detailed builder directions in his designs, believing that a builder who needed these probably shouldn't be constructing an airplane. How times have changed!"
    Times have changed for the better because now we have kits and for a kit vendor like VANs, it is in their interest that a customer's build goes to completion. At the time of plan's builds, the Ray Stits of the world once they had sold their plans did not have lots at stake to see a high percentage of completion... and it showed!

  2. How true, JP. We have come a long way, but owe Ray Stits and others from the 1950s a great deal for having proven to the FAA that citizens can build and fly a safe airplane. Your comrades in France did the same.

  3. So where is the airplane now? I'm flying n1613.