The Pietenpol family points out that they haven’t changed the original 1934 “Air Camper” plans which they sell today. Chet Peek lives in Oklahoma and has been flying since 1939. He purchased an “Air Camper” kit in the 1950s which he did not begin to build until 2003. With renewed interest, he interviewed Pietenpol’s neighbors and family for his book, “The Pietenpol Story,” which was published in 2006. “He was a country boy and nothing he did was flashy,” says Peek, whose book is replete with drawing plans, parts lists, and conversion instructions representing more than 70 years of Pietenpol history. Having restored more than a dozen aircraft (all airworthy) it isn’t surprising that Peek is sticking to the original Pietenpol plans. “I’m using a Model A engine,” says Peek, “pretty much like he would.”
The “simple design”
Today there are Pietenpol clubs in the U.K. and all across the United States. Pietenpol’s garage is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Pietenpol’s grandson, Andrew still flies and sells “Air Campers” and assures potential buyers that plenty of Model A engines are available.
In 1960 when Chevrolet came out with the Corvair engine, Pietenpol used it to power his own “Air Camper,” with such success he called it “the smoothest engine I have ever flown.” Naturally many have since been built with equal satisfaction. “It’s a simple design,” says Peek. “You can put almost any kind of engine on the nose of his airframe . . . Ford A, Ford T, Ford V-8, Velie, Kinner, Lycoming, Franklin, and Continental — all with good results.”
A hangar designed and built by Pietenpol was disassembled and erected at Oshkosh, WI, for the Experimental Aircraft Association. Inside, an “Air Camper” is exhibited along with a lawn mower Pietenpol made using a washing machine engine during the 1930s. Bernard H. Pietenpol was posthumously inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame in 1991. The Fillmore County Historical Society in Fountain, near Cherry Grove, displays one of the original Pietenpol aircraft. In addition to his designs for homebuilt airplanes, he was an instructor for the pre-WWII Civilian Pilot Training program. He then returned to Cherry Grove to briefly run a fixed base operation at the small grass strip, and later sold and installed TVs. Pietenpol died in 1984 at the age of 83.
His admirers call him a “genius” and general aviation historians accept him as the “father of the homebuilt airplane.” But, Orrin Hoopman’s few words may best describe Bernard Harold Pietenpol. “He was a very kind and compassionate man . . . and a born mechanic.”
Giacinta Bradley Koontz is an aviation historian and author. She was the founder and director of the Portal of the Folded Wings Shrine to Aviation and Museum from 1995-2001 (the site of Charles Taylor’s grave in North Hollywood, CA). Giacinta holds a BA in anthropology with a minor in U.S. history and has given presentations on pioneer aviation since 1995. Most recently she has been awarded a partial grant from the Wolf Aviation Fund to write her second book, highlighting the life of Amelia Earhart’s mechanic, Ernest Eugene Tissot Sr.
Builders and owners of Pietenpol aircraft will be gathering at the EAA AirVenture, July 27 to August 2, to recognize the 80th anniversary.
The Los Angeles Metropolitan Airport in Van Nuys, as it was first called, was the biggest, created by businessmen on 80 acres of walnut and peach groves.