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Bernard H. Pietenpol (1901 – 1984)

Father of Homebuilt Aircraft & General Aviation Pioneer

Garages and fields across America were filled with eager aircraft experimenters after World War I. Pilots, mechanics, and enthusiasts were sure that aviation was going to be a major new business and they rushed to find some way to participate. The early days of aviation’s Golden Age saw hundreds of shifting partnerships and companies, many advertising undeveloped products using outrageous performance claims. One man who actually delivered on those claims was Bernard H. Pietenpol, designer of the Pietenpol Air Camper. The original Model A powered Light Plane was designed to get the best possible performance from the engine, be easy to fly and get the most flying hours for the money invested. The story of Ol’ 12937 proves he achieved what he set out to do. His achievement was to create an airplane design that could be built and flown by the “average American” of the 1930’s. The Air Camper was a two-place open cockpit monoplane made from material that was readily available from local sources. He adapted a Ford Model A engine to work in the airplane. His design was sturdy, simple, affordable and with a “parasol” wing that enabled a pilot to land almost anywhere.

Pietenpol was a self-taught, modest, capable and responsible airplane designer who lived most of his life in the small community of Cherry Grove in southeastern Minnesota. Yet, this man had a profound influence on general aviation worldwide. Without leaving Cherry Grove the world came to him, learned from him and honored him. Since the early 1930’s, thousands of his plans have been sold and a large, but unknown number, of the planes built using those plans.

Bernard Harold Pietenpol (1901-1984)
(Dutch pronunciation is Pee Ten Pol)

Born, Spring Valley Cherry Grove Township Minnesota. He learned to fly in the 1920’s, and constructed his first homebuilt airplane in 1923 with a Ford Model T engine (Sky Scout).
In April of 1930, he brought two Ford Model A powered airplanes to Minneapolis. These aircraft he showed to the editor of Modern Mechanics magazine to prove that an auto engine powered aircraft could indeed fly. The Pietenpol Air Camper plans were published in the magazine in 1931. The also appeared in the 1932 edition of the Modern Mechanics annual called the Flying and Glider Manual. During those times even the Model A motor was too expensive. So, Bernie came up with a single place plane powered by the cheaper Model T motor called the Sky Scout. With the magazine exposure, the aircraft became the favorite homebuilt airplane of its day.
From then to the beginning of WW II, he built less than 20 planes himself. However, he sold plans, made parts for the plane and converted Model A motors for flight. Prior to and during WW II, he was an instructor in the Civilian Pilot’s Training program. After the war, he reopened his plans and parts business, but to pay the bills, he set up a business fixing televisions and radios.

Mr. Pietenpol, considered by many as the “Father of Homebuilt Aircraft”, was a self-taught engineer who designed his own airfoils, did his own stress analysis and as Ol’ 12937 shows, created a plane that even today catches the fancy of all those who see it or fly it.

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