HISTORY OF PIETENPOL AIR CAMPER N12937
Tracing the history of N12937 is a both a tribute to B. H. Pietenpol and the Air Camper he designed. .It was first flown, April 20, 1933. From the records BHP kept, it took him 212 hours to build and test fly the aircraft. Bernie built the Air Camper to prove the design was not a fluke and to give his friend Orrin Hoopman the details so that construction drawings could be made. Between 1933 and 1936, it is estimated that BHP flew N12937 more than 1000 hours. In 1936 he sold it to the three Lowinske brothers of Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. It was used in their aviation business until December 20, 1936, when the brothers flew low over a girlfriend’s house and crashed into a nearby cottonwood tree. The boys were fine, but the airplane was a mess. During the winter, with help from Bernie Pietenpol, they rebuilt it. Between the spring of 1937 and 1939, the Lowinskes’ gave rides at Pietenpol Field. During that time it is estimated that they added another 500 flying hours to the airframe.
However, in 1938, the FAA was clamping down on commercial use of homebuilts. So in the late ’39, they traded it to Don Malherek of Truman, Minnesota for a 1936 Chevy 5-passenger coupe and $100. Eldon gave Don a familiarization flight and 6-take-offs and landings and Don was on his own. Don flew the plane about 100 hours over the next two years. He was drafted and because of his “flying experience” became a flight instructor and B-17-pilot in WW-II.
In 1941 Don sold 12937 to a local farmer Edgar Ritz. Edgar’s brother was a barnstormer and taught Edgar how to fly the Air Camper. However during the war the plane was stored in Edgar’s barn. In the late ‘40’s the plane was reassembled and flown until barbed wire fences and drainage ditches took a toll on the wooden frame. In 1950 it was retired to the barn until Edgar’s death in 1958.
His estate sold the plane to Wally Hanson a plumber from Minneapolis. Needless to say the plane was in poor shape and needed to be completed rebuilt. An interesting aside when BHP had rebuilt the plane in 37, he installed a 1936 speedometer that was used as a tachometer. The conversion factor was that 52 mph gave a 1725 rpm cruising speed. When the plane was rebuilt in ’58-’61 it had 57,000+ miles, which translates to over 1100 flying hours.
By 1961 the Air Camper was ready to fly again, but the number N12937 had been assign to another aircraft; Ol’ 12937 became N4968E. Also, because of FAA rules on experimental aircraft it needed to be test flown 75 hours by a licensed pilot. Wally only had a student license. He partnered with Forrest Loverly who was 17 at the time and had a new private license.
Forrest logged the 75 hours and by November 1963, the plane had been signed off by Minneapolis GADO. It turns out that Forrest had been raised in Northern Maine and Wally Hanson invited Forrest to “take the Pietenpol” to Maine. Forrest departed June 8,1964 with $100 cash and 57silver dollars in his pocket. He had a forced landing at New Richland, Wisconsin, due to water in the gas, which chewed up the propeller. Getting a replacement took two days, it was ordered from BHP parts’ company. He headed east averaging 87 mph (good tail wind). It took him 24 flying hours to cover the 2200 miles. After two weeks he headed back but because of the head winds and storms (remember this is an open cockpit) the going was slow. Around Strongsville, Ohio the engine quit completely and he managed to make a forced landing in a small 700-foot field. It turned out it was the magneto and coil. He had a hard time finding a mag for a 35 year old Model A engine. Through a stroke of luck he did find one. With the new Mag & coil the engine ran fine. The plane had not been damaged in the force landing and Forrest hitched the plane to a garden tractor and towed it to a larger field under the watchful eye of a police escort. After thanking one and all, Forrest opened the throttle, took off and headed west. The 4400 mile trip required 57 flying hours, averaged 3-gallons per hour, and required 2-quarts of oil. The entire trip cost $99.43 so Forrest had 57 cents and 57 silver dollars left. Forrest still has the 57 silver dollars to remind him of the trip.
On June 8, 1965, Forrest was in the front seat as a passenger. Just after take-off the pilot pulled it into a turn, the wing stalled and the plane spun into the ground. The result was a broken longeron, a wing spar and a crumpled wing strut. Both men walked away with minor injuries. The plane was rebuilt and used to give one and all the thrill of a ride in an open cockpit airplane.
Wally Hanson passed away in 1971 and in July ’71, Wally’s family donated it to Forrest Lovley. The old number had become available so the Hanson family had had it reregistered as N12937 prior to giving it to Forrest. In 1975 the entire plane was recovered with 1.7 oz. Ceconite cloth using only clear dope trimmed in Tennessee Red.
In late 1990, Ol’ 12937 was purchase by “Pietenpol 12937, Inc”, a corporation formed specifically to ensure that this important plane would be properly preserved and exhibited. Most of the contributions came from members of the Buckeye Pietenpol Association and included Forrest Lovley. On October 27, 1990, Forrest and Ed Sampson brought the 57 year old to the EAA. It took them about 45 minutes to reassemble the plane.
Ol’ 12937 now is on display at the EAA AirVenture Museum courtesy of “Pietenpol 12937, Inc.
It is a tribute to Bernard H. Pietenpol’s simply yet sturdy design of the Air Camper.