EAA Chapter 25

A Community of Aviation Enthusiasts in the Twin Cities

Pietenpol – A Bit of History

Filed under: Member Projects — admin at 10:57 pm on Saturday, June 11, 2005

by Greg Cardinal

from On Final June 2005

If you’ve been around aviation for any length of time you have probably heard of the “Pietenpol Air Camper”. The story begins in the mid 1920′s in Cherry Grove, Minnesota. Bernard Pietenpol (pronounced “BURN-erd PETE-n-paal) was interested in airplanes, as were a lot of other young people after the war. Charles Lindbergh’s flight ignited aviation passions even further.

Back in Cherry Grove, Mr. Pietenpol was tinkering with airplanes. Some were less than successful and finding an adequate, affordable engine was difficult. By 1929, Bernard had a viable airframe and an airfoil that he’d drawn out in chalk on a workshop floor (or so the legend goes). Henry Ford was selling Model “A” cars and Mr. Pietenpol was confident the Ford engine would be adequate in his airplane. After making a few modifications to the engine and mounting a propeller his plane flew very well. He built a second plane that also flew successfully.

Around 1930 or 1931, a Minneapolis based magazine, Modern Mechanics Illustrated, the predecessor to Popular Mechanics magazine, published an editorial denouncing the viability of automobile engines in airplanes as too heavy and under powered. Mr. Pietenpol informed the magazine editor that two airplanes were flying in Cherry Grove with automobile engines. The magazine editor challenged Mr. Pietenpol to fly the airplanes to Minneapolis for a demonstration.

Bernard and Don Finke flew them to Minneapolis. The magazine editor was thrilled with the airplanes and wanted to publish the plans in his magazine. No plans existed at that time so Mr. Pietenpol enlisted the services of his 19 year old neighbor, Orrin Hoopman, to draw up some plans which were subsequently published. The rest is history. Pietenpols have been successfully built the world over for more than 75 years. Some are still being built with Ford Model “A” or “B” engines. The Corvair and Continental A-65 engines are other popular engines.

In 1996 I purchased a set of plans and found an active support group on the internet with builders around the world including Mexico, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. In January of 1997 I cut the first pieces of spruce and plywood and started building ribs. In June of that year, Dale Johnson approached me and informed me that he had just built a workshop. He was looking for a project and offered to be my building partner.

This turned out to be a very good move on my part. Final inspection and sign-off was done on Saturday, May 21st. First flight was done on Monday, May 23rd.

We powered our Pietenpol with an A-65 and built 19 inch wire spoke wheels. It looks like an antique. Other features include hand woven wicker seat backs, burled black walnut veneer instrument panels, homemade compass and cowl latches. Chris Bobka has been closely involved with this project from the beginning and has done the initial test flights.

Based at Stanton, the aircraft looks right at home on a grass airstrip and it always draws a crowd whenever we take it out of the hangar.


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