July 29, 2013 - For many the words flying farmer conjure up visions of a bright yellow Cub floating slowly over a gently rolling landscape of green fields. But over the croplands of northeastern North Dakota that vision may turn out to be one, two, three, or four brightly painted Pitts Special biplanes doing a few aggressive maneuvers while out checking on the cows.
The four little planes are part of what Edson Grindeland and his friends call the Hatton Flying Circus.
Edson flies his experimental Pitts S1C, Kevin Solberg flies an experimental S1S, Keith Thorsgard flies a factory-built S1S, and Roger Thompson, along with his son Jim, fly a factory-built S2B. They fly off of a grass strip on Edson's brother Ethan's farm outside of Hatton, North Dakota.
"We grew up around airplanes, Ethan and me," Edson said. "Our grandpa and dad flew all the time, so we've been around airplanes our whole life. Over time we've had Champs and Bonanzas and the like.
"But Roger Thompson bought [a Pitts] a few years back and I'm not sure what spurred him to get one."
Eventually Roger offered to let Edson fly the biplane if he first got some training. After a round of instruction in Arizona, Edson and Roger spent time in the airplane just enjoying the sprightly performance of the aerobatic Pitts.
The sheer fun of it all brought Edson to consider the purchase of an S1C located in Montana. A deal was made and although he had considered using parts off the plane for an RV-8 project, the flight back to North Dakota convinced him otherwise. "I flew it home and had way too much fun in it to take it apart," he said.
One thing led to another. Kevin purchased his Pitts to replace a Bonanza lost in a tornado and, four years ago, Keith purchased number four in the group.
EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2013 is the first time they have all been here, although they regularly fly together at events throughout eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota.
As Oshkosh veterans the pilots had managed to develop a cache of gear that they store in Oshkosh from year to year. Ultimately it became practical to come with just a duffel bag small enough to fit into what little luggage space the Pitts provides.
"We didn't need to bring much stuff down. So we thought it would be fun to get all four of them down here," Edson said, adding, "just to say we did it once.
"But they are kind of a pain to go cross-country in."
None of the planes have heaters. With the weather this year, at least so far, one of the two fuel stops on the 500-mile trip required a drive into town in order to acquire warmer clothing.
One thing the group has discovered is how different the four airplanes are, even though they all started out from the same basic Curtis Pitts design.
Each tail has different dimensions; the aileron configurations are all dissimilar; and modifications done by the builders of the two experimental one-seaters departed a bit from the plans. Kevin's is the fastest of the bunch since it includes several speed modifications a prior owner installed to be competitive in the Biplane class at the Reno Air Races.
When asked whether the group considered aerobatics beyond the loops and rolls they occasionally do now, Edson said, "I'm too old for that.
"But one day if Keith and Jimmy want to do it, they have the airplanes to do it in...we talk about it, but we're busy on the farm.
"We really just have them for the fun of it."