Steve Wittman designed and built two Goodyear racers, Buster and Little Bonzo, named after two comic strip characters he had enjoyed in the 1930s. Goodyear rules specified a minimum weight of 500 pounds, and Little Bonzo came out at 508 pounds. Being a stickler for simplicity and lightweight design, Steve begrudged the unnecessary 8 pounds. Steve’s guiding principle of aircraft design was “keep it simple, stupid.”
Steve flew Little Bonzo for the first time on July 16, 1948, and logged a little less than 10 hours on the airplane before entering a race. Little Bonzo’s first race was the second annual Goodyear Trophy race in which Steve placed second, kicking off a 40-year racing and air show career for Little Bonzo during which the racer won a room full of plaques and trophies, not to mention paying for itself many times over.
Some of the highlights of Little Bonzo’s career include winning the Continental Trophy Race in 1949 and 1952, winning the Rebat Trophy in 1950 and 1951, and winning his hometown race in Oshkosh in 1956 and 1957. Little Bonzo won scores of small races around the country, so many, in fact, that Steve lost count.
Unlike modern racers that are disassembled and towed to races, Little Bonzo flew to every event it participated in. In fact, Little Bonzo was not just a racer, but also an air show performer. Steve was in big demand during the postwar years as an air show performer, and he used Little Bonzo to put on demonstrations of high-speed aerobatics. With the light wing loading of his racer, Steve could do continuous loops right off the deck, with snap rolls on the top. Amazingly, Steve often performed his air show routine between heat races.
In 1968, the Goodyear rules were changed to allow the use of the Continental O-200 engine, and in August of the following year, Steve removed the original Continental C-85 and replaced it with an O-200.
Little Bonzo participated in its last Goodyear race on July 8, 1973, in Du Page, Illinois. The racer was not flown again until the following Memorial Day weekend to participate in an air show. Steve flew Little Bonzo a couple of hours over Independence Day weekend in 1974, and then parked the airplane for four years, though the little racer was kept in license. In 1978, Steve dusted off Little Bonzo and began winning races again.
Finally, in 1987, Little Bonzo was in need of a rebuild, its first major work since the airplane was constructed. After the rebuild, Steve flew the airplane for two 15-minute test flights before he decided to donate Little Bonzo. Steve restored his racer to its original configuration by installing a Continental C-85 and Little Bonzo was officially donated to EAA at a ceremony during EAA Oshkosh 1994. Little Bonzo now hangs alongside its “big brother,” Big Bonzo on display in the EAA Aviation Museum Racing Gallery.
Length: 19 feet
Wingspan: 15 feet, 4 inches
Empty Weight: 508 pounds
Maximum Speed: 240 mph
Powerplant: Continental C-85
Horsepower: 100 hp
Range: 520 miles