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Pietenpol Air Camper

Rebuilt by the Pretoria Boys High School Aeronautical Society

This two-seat light aircraft was designed to be built by amateur aircraft constructors (often referred to as “homebuilders”) and is one of the most enduring designs of this type, having been built over a period of eight decades.

Originally designed by Bernie Pietenpol in the USA in the 1920s, it was intended to use simple construction methods and readily-available materials. The type first flew in 1929 and was subject to much testing and modification before plans were published. The original engine was a Ford Model-A car engine which gave a reliable and inexpensive (albeit heavy) power plant.

Hundreds of examples of these aircraft have been built across the world by amateur builders from the 1930s up to the present. Most have utilized modern motorcar or aircraft engines although there are still some flying in the USA with Ford Model A car engines.

It is not known who originally built this example, probably in the 1970s, which means that it was one of the first in South Africa. It was acquired in the 1990s by Otto Stumke, an SAA Flight Engineer who later passed it on to the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Chapter 322. After deciding not to proceed with a rebuild to flying condition, it was donated by the EAA to the Aeronautical Society of Pretoria Boys High School in January 2014 on condition that it would be a static project. The school boys in this Society used the correct materials to undertake the rebuild, which stretched over four years.

The design was unusual in that a second version of the design was later developed in which the fuselage and tail assembly was built of tubular steel rather than the original wood.

This Air Camper has been restored to represent the all-wood design as originally envisaged by Bernie Pietenpol, including the use of spoked wheels and a dummy Ford car engine. One half of the airframe has been left uncovered to show the internal structure of an aircraft of this era.

The aircraft was placed on long term loan to the SAA Museum Society in August 2018. Text and photographs: John Illsley.

Date type first manufactured 1928 (This example circa 1970)
First flight with Ford A engine 1929
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 610 lb (277 kg)
Loaded weight 995 lb (452 kg)
Max take-off weight 1080 lb (490 kg)
Max speed 86 knots (100 mph, 160 km/h)
Stall speed 30 knots (35 mph, 56 km/h)
Rate of climb 500 ft/min (152 m/min)
Engine Ford Model A automotive conversion 40hp (30kW)
Crew/Passenger One pilot and one passenger

Pietenpol Air Camper John Illsley 00A Pretoria Boys High School Aeronautical Society wings

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 Pietenpol Air Camper John Illsley 09 Photo0159

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