Steve Wittman

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Wittman Regional Airport

Wittman Tailwind (W-10)

Wittman DFA Racer

Sylvester Joseph “Steve” Wittman (born April 5, 1904 in Byron, Wisconsin; † April 27, 1995 in Stevenson, Alabama) was an American racing pilot and aircraft designer.


Wittman was born on April 5, 1904, the fifth youngest child of Martin and Mary Ann Bauer Wittman. A childhood illness caused him to lose most of his vision in one eye, so he was convinced at a young age that his dream of flying was unattainable.[1][2] Nonetheless, he learned to fly in 1924 on a Standard J-1[2] and built his first airplane, the “Hardley-Abelson” powered by a Harley-Davidson engine, by the end of that year.[3] From 1925 to 1927, he operated his own aviation company, offering pleasure flights. During this time he also began working as a test pilot for the Pheasant Aircraft Company and the Dayton Aircraft Company. There he flew the Pheasant H-10 in numerous demonstrations. Furthermore, he started his career as a race pilot during this time. His first race was in 1926 on his J-1 in Milwaukee.[1]

After his first participation in a transcontinental air race from New York City to Los Angeles in 1928, he obtained special medical clearance for his eyesight[1] and received his pilot’s license, signed by Orville Wright himself.[1]

He then went on to design, build and fly his own aircraft. These included the Chief Oshkosh in 1931 and the Bonzo in 1934. The Bonzo was the first time he competed in a race with an aircraft of his own design. This was the Thompson Trophy in 1935, in which he took second place.

In 1937, he finished second in the Greve Trophy with his Chief Oshkosh. With the Bonzo, he also flew in the Thompson Trophy that same year, leading an average speed of 275 mph (443 km/h) for 18 laps out of 20 when his engine began to run erratically and he was forced to cut back on the throttle to avoid dropping out of the race. He eventually flew to the finish line in fifth place. In 1938, he was awarded the Louis Blériot Medal for special services to aviation by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.

Also in 1937, Wittman designed and built the Wittman Buttercup, a shoulder-wing monoplane that was intended to outperform the more common aircraft of the time. Based on this machine he built the Wittman Big X in 1945 and the popular series of aircraft kits Wittman Tailwind.[4]

During World War II, Wittman worked for the Civilian Pilot Training Program, training pilots for the United States Army Air Corps.

After the war, he finished eighth in the Thompson Trophy in a Bell P-63. In 1947 Bill Brennand won the inaugural Goodyear class race at the National Air Races in a Wittman Buster. The Buster was a replica of the Chief Oshkosh, which went on to win many Goodyear/Continental Trophy races before being retired after the race at Dansville, New York. Today, the aircraft is on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

For the National Air Races of 1948, Wittman built a completely new Bonzo, with which he finished third. He flew this machine in the 1950s and 1960s in the first races of the US championship in Reno, among others, until he retired from Formula One in 1973. This Bonzo now stands alongside the old Bonzo along with other of his aircraft at the EAA Aviation Museum in Oshkosh.

Wittman was manager of the Oshkosh Airport from 1931 to 1969, which was later named Wittman Regional Airport after him.[5] He was also involved in the founding of the Experimental Aircraft Association in 1953 and arranged for the first annual fly-in to be held at the Oshkosh airfield in 1970.

In order to participate in the newly founded Formula V Air Racing class in 1977, he designed and built the Wittman V-Witt. He flew and won in this series until 1981. Since then, the winners of the Formula V National Championship receive the Steve Wittman Trophy.

Wittman remained devoted to aviation throughout his life. To celebrate his ninetieth birthday, he performed aerobatic maneuvers in his V-Witt and his Tailwind. Furthermore, he flew with children of the Young Eagles program in his Buttercup. For his ninetieth birthday, he received letters of appreciation from U.S. President Bill Clinton and Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson.[6]


Wittman married Dorthy Rady in 1941, he taught her to fly and she accompanied him to most of his races. Dorthy died in 1991 and Wittman married Paula Muir in 1992.


On April 27, 1995, Wittman and his wife took off on a routine flight from their winter residence in Ocala, Florida to their summer residence in Oshkosh. Their Wittman O&O crashed five miles south of Stevenson, Alabama when the wing covering came loose due to improper attachment, causing aileron and wing flutter.[7]


In 1998, Wittman was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America[8] and posthumously inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2014.[9]


  • Wittman Hardley Ableson
  • Wittman Chief Oshkosh
  • Wittman D-12 Bonzo
  • Wittman DFA “Little Bonzo”
  • Wittman Buttercup
  • Wittman Big X
  • Wittman Tailwind
  • Wittman V-Witt

Web links

Commons: Steve Wittman– Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual references

  1. a b c d Hall of Fame Inductee Sylvester Joseph Wittman.Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame, retrieved April 15, 2021 (English).
  2. a b Wittman, Sylvester J. “Steve”.National Museum of the United States Air Force, retrieved 15 April 2021 (English).
  3. About Steve Wittman.Experimental Aircraft Association, retrieved 15 April 2021 (English).
  4. Jack Cox: Wittman Big X restored. In: Sport Aviation. July 1980 (English).
  5. Steve Wittman Field.The Oshkosh Northwestern, November 9, 1968, accessed April 15, 2021 (English).
  6. Jack Cox: Happy 90th Steve. In: Sport Aviation. Experimental Aircraft Association, June 1994.
  7. Aviation Accident Final Report.National Transportation Safety Board, 12 December 1995, retrieved 15 April 2021.
  8. Aaron L. King, Jr:Steve Wittman, Aviation, Class of 1998.Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, retrieved April 15, 2021 (English).
  9. Mary Grady:Aviation Hall Of Fame Honors Six.AVweb, 18 December 2013, accessed 15 April 2021 (English).