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.
I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and makezine.com. My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.View more articles by Sean Michael Ragan