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Artifact Friday: Pietenpole

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

Bernard Pietenpole was a self-taught mechanic and airplane designer from Cherry Grove, Minnesota who wanted to create airplane kits the “average” American could build and afford.

This opened the door for a new kit design that he dubbed the Pietenpole Air Camper.

His original designs were built with spruce and/or plywood, fabric covers, and small car engines. While they did fly, the performance was not great.

So he created another airframe, building it around a new car engine called the Ford Model A (which had just come out two years earlier).

He flew with this design in 1929.

An editor named Weston Farmer began writing that car engines (especially Model A engines) were not fit to power aircraft. So, to prove him wrong, Pietenpole flew his design to a Minneapolis fly-in, where he told everyone that this design was the safest for beginners.

The aviation community was so impressed with his Air Camper that the kit design was published in four separate 1931 issues of “Modern Mechanics and Inventions Flying Manual”.

Pietenpole began receiving nationwide recognition, and soon his small kit company began producing other aircraft designs including the Pietenpole Sky Scout.

However, his Air Camper kit was a classic, and its design made a breakthrough for experimental home builds.

In a way, the introduction of the Pietenpole Air Camper helped inspire the creation of flying clubs including the Experimental Aircraft Association which was founded by men who only flew home builds!

The Pietenpole on display at our museum is a replica of his Air Camper design complete with a Ford Model A engine.

Consequently enough, this Air Camper is sitting right next to our Ford Model A truck which uses the same engine as the Pietenpole!

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