Bernard H. Pietenpol
Bernard Pietenpol was born in 1901 and lived in the southern Minnesota community of Cherry Grove. From the beginning, Bernard showed an aptitude for all things mechanical and became the town’s “mechanical genius.” Bernard was also intrigued
by the new “flying machines” that had gained notoriety and a fair amount of acceptance after WWI.
But flying was expensive, even with all the war surplus “Jennies” and “Standards” on the market. The average aviation enthusiast had a hard time coming up with the cash to buy or maintain an airplane. Bernard, with an eighth grade education took it upon himself to build an airplane and teach himself how to fly. He was convinced that airplanes could be powered by automotive engines much cheaper and more available than the expensive certified aircraft engines.
With the help of his father-in-law W.J.Krueger, a wood craftsman, and two friends – Don Finke and Orrin Hoopman, Bernard began experimenting with various wing and fuselage designs, as well as engines to power them. There was a lot of trial and error as Bernard searched for the right combination, always keeping in mind that he wanted to develop an airplane that anyone could afford, construct and enjoy without the expense of factory-supplied special parts or complex construction methods.
Their first attempt, in 1920, was a small biplane which used a Ford Model T engine which was inexpensive and plentiful. Without much alteration, the engine could develop about 20 horsepower but the prototype could not have been called a success. Bernard confessed later, “It would have flown if I’d had known how to fly it. Luckily I didn’t.” Not only did Pietenpol want an airplane that was easy to construct, it had to be reasonably easy to fly, since many of those he envisioned flying his airplane would be, like him, novices when it came to piloting skills.