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800px-Pietenpol.air.camper.g-buco.arp.jpg

When I was about 12 years old, and still living in Dallas, my dad bundled me into the car one day and drove me out to Love Field to meet my great uncle, Troy, who was, at the time, touring the United States, visiting every city named “Troy,” in a light plane he built himself. I remember the way the plywood skin of the plane looked and smelled from the inside. I remember Troy showing us his “auto pilot,” which was a set of three ropes he could loop over the control stick to maintain level flight while he ate a meal. Troy finished his tour and flew back to his home in Alaska, and five years later was killed in a pile-up on a fog-shrouded highway. Troy was something of a maker legend in my family–besides the plane, he built his lakeside geodesic dome-home and all the furniture in it, including a pool table. He built a fleet of canoes–one named for each of his daughters and grand-daughters–to sail on the same lake. He even built the lake itself, or at least the dam that formed it. That afternoon at the airport was the only time I ever met him.

And although I don’t think I’d ever try to build a functional airplane myself, the experience left me with fair-sized soft spot for those who do. So I got a huge kick out of Chuck Gantzer’s page describing the building and flying of his Pietenpol AirCamper NX770CG. The AirCamper was first designed by one Bernard Pietenpol, who in 1928, with no more than an eighth-grade formal education, set out to build a “common man’s airplane” with hardware store and scavenged parts. Today his son and grandson are still selling plans. [via Boing Boing]

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Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I write for MAKE, serve as Technical Editor for MAKE magazine, and develop original DIY content for Make: Projects.


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Comments

  1. RocketGuy says:

    I’ve done a ton of research, been to airventure and many EAA sport air building workshops (highly recommend those!), and I found that one of the most maker friendly companies is sonex aircraft.

    They’ve been doing some really interesting things lately (e-flight, the subsonex micro jet), but I’m most impressed by their dedication to provide value for their customers. You can plans build a sonex on your own or buy kits or sub-kits, or just parts from them.

    I was divided between doing a long-ez and the waiex (one of sonex aircraft’s kits), and finally decided for several reasons on the waiex.

    So I’ll be building a Waiex in a few years. The most challenging aspect of this is likely finding an appropriate building space in the bay area that doesn’t cost a fortune. My work studio isn’t quite big enough for the major assemblies, nor could I get it out of the back yard afterwards…

    1. Brent Humphreys says:

      While I am building my own project airplane. My EAA chapter has an Aircamper nearing completion.
      You can read about it here.
      http://eaa1218.org/index.php/chapter-projects/pietenpol

      It is for sale.

  2. elrodney says:

    Man, I love and admire people like this. Totally inspiring guy!

  3. Simon says:

    I was a little disappointed the link in the article wasn’t about the aircraft in the picture! The pictured one looks really nice. I found this link about it: http://shortfinals.wordpress.com/2009/03/01/two-classics-a-pietenpol-air-camper-and-arthur/

  4. Anonymous says:

    I enjoyed the story about your uncle, thanks.

  5. pembquist says:

    $2000 is not realistic. A piet is going to cost over 10 grand to build. The original design has a modified model A ford engine and I suspect you could drop 2000 into that without trying too hard. If you want an excellent homebuilt I would recommend anything from Vans Aircraft. The only downside is that they are designed around real airplane engines which are debilitatingly expensive. Unfortunately auto engine conversions are plagued by problems and realistically the time and experimentation that goes into one has to be taken into account when considering the ostensible cost savings they are purported to provide.

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