A Family Affair

Bernard Pietenpol’s happiest moments came when he was flying one of his homebuilt airplanes—with a child or two in tow.

(Courtesy Pietenpol Family)

Why fly solo when you can bring along a passenger? That’s probably what Bernard Pietenpol was thinking when he designed and built the Air Camper, a two-seat monoplane.

Pietenpol lived a simple life in rural Minnesota. When he wasn’t working in his television repair shop in Cherry Grove, he almost always had an airplane under construction: wood airframe, fabric covering, and an engine lifted from an automobile. And when the airplane was finished, it was put to use flying low and slow over acres of farmland. Pietenpol’s two sons, Kermit and Don, and his six grandchildren all grew up seeing their world from above. For the Pietenpol family, airplanes weren’t really a mode of transportation—a way to get from one point to another. Flying was a pleasure all its own, and getting aloft in an open-cockpit airplane was the best way to enjoy a long summer day. Generations of Pietenpol homebuilders agree.

Pictured above: Don often sat alongside his father, who resorted to strapping his son in with a men’s belt because the no-frills Air Campers had no safety harnesses.

Young Pietenpol

(Courtesy Pietenpol Family)

In 1910, Bernard Pietenpol was a nine-year-old schoolboy in Jamestown, North Dakota. A decade later, he opened an auto repair shop in a barn in Cherry Grove, Minnesota.

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