In the Mid 1920’s, Bernard H. Pietenpol took a few flying lessons in a Curtiss JN-4D, the World War I-era biplane, and even bought one when they were sold off as military surplus. But he never liked it, and soon got rid of it.

He built a couple of aircraft from other peoples plans but was not happy with the end product. He began designing his own aircraft in 1927 and started building it in 1928.

By May 1929, he had completed his version of a high-wing monoplane, with two cockpits. In late 1927, the Model A Ford, with its 40-horsepower engine, had arrived and he chose this to power his unique aircraft.

The aviation editor of Modern Mechanics and Inventions wrote in 1929 that it was not likely that an automobile engine could be adapted for flight. So Pietenpol taught his friend, Don Finke, to fly (in one day) and then they flew two of the new "two-place" machines up to Minneapolis on April 14, 1930, to prove him wrong.

The editor, Westy Farmer, was won over, and the magazine printed drawings and photographs that publicised the new airplane.

The magazine dubbed the aircraft the "Air Camper" and the name stuck. A few years later, Pietenpol introduced the single-place Sky Scout, but the Air Camper has remained the overwhelming favourite of builders. Modern Mechanics published a set of Air Camper plans in 1932 in its annual Flying and Glider Manual.

In the early 1930’s when Beechcraft and Cessna aircraft cost $10,000 each, you could have a Pietenpol flying for less than $500. Even today, it is cheaper to build a fully flying Pietenpol than it is to buy a new car.

Bernard Pietenpol spent the rest of his life in Cherry Grove, Minnesota. He continued building his own airplanes until 1970, and flew until he was 80. Pietenpol builders continued to make pilgrimages to Cherry Grove to seek his counsel.

Pietenpol died in 1984, at the age of 83. Today, his garage workshop is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The hangar he built in Cherry Grove has been dismantled and reconstructed next to the EAA's museum, which has two of his Air Campers in its collection.

The Pietenpol design is 85 years old this year and apart from lengthening the engine mount slightly to accommodate todays lighter engines, the design remains unchanged since 1928.

It has been powered by more than 50 different types of engines - more than any other aircraft in the 109 years of aviation history.

No two Pietenpols anywhere in the world are exactly alike. And there is no one truly original Pietenpol. Bernard built 23 of them over his lifetime, each of them different and powered by different engines.

The EAA has dubbed Bernard H Pietenpol the father of home built aviation. He was the first to make it accessible, affordable and easy for the common man to build and fly.

He was the first to successfully convert an auto engine to aviation use. Many people taught themselves how to fly in his design – that’s how strong and stable a platform he had created.

The TAVAS example was built in 2001 from the original plans. It is powered by an automobile engine – a Subaru EA81 1800cc flat four, water cooled.

General Characteristics

Length:                    17 ft 8 in        (5.39 m)
Wingspan:             29 ft 0 in         (8.84 m)
Height:                       6 ft 6 in         (1.98 m)
Wing area:               135 ft²            (12.5 m²)
Empty weight:        688 lb            (312 kg)
MTOW:                  1200 lb              (544 kg)
Power plant    Subaru EA81 1.8 litre engine with 2.36 :1 re-drive
Prop                         Sweetapple 74” x 48” 


Maximum speed:         96 knots          (178 km/h)

Stall speed:                    38 knots          (  70 km/h)
Rate of climb:                660 ft/min     (200 m/min)

Wing loading:                     7 lb/ft²        (36kg/m²) 

TAVAS uses this aircraft to take people up so they can experience open cockpit flying in the same way the early pioneer aviators did. It performs much like the early 2 seat observer aircraft of World War One.