If you thought cars were an expensive hobby, check into the operating costs of a used prop plane. (It’s a lot.) Unless, apparently, you whip up your own aircraft from some plans drawn up about 90 years ago like the guy in this video.
If you’ve never heard of the Pietenpol airplane, like I hadn’t until yesterday, it was designed in 1928 to bring aviation to the common man. No, seriously! According to the Pietenpol Aircraft Company, which will still sell you the plans and parts to put yourself in the air for less than the cost of an economy car, Bernard Pietenpol was basically trying to build affordable airplanes an in era when televisions were the size of refrigerators but the screens were the size of your iPhone.
“It’s nothing more than a big balsa wood airplane that you happen to fly in,” this video hosts explains as he narrates alighting in his Pietenpol for the first time. “You can build one of these for under $10,000, it’s something you can do in your garage over the course of three years.”
The Pietenpol plane looks like a tchotchke that’d be hanging in an Applebee’s. And that just makes it all the more impressive that people are actually brave enough to go airborne in these oversized toys.
Pietenpol was obviously ahead of his time. People are still building and flying in the contraptions he dreamed up 89 years ago! It appears that Pietenpol’s descendants operate the company now, and have laid out how to build your own plane pretty neatly on their website.
The site quotes the original Mr. Pietenpol with saying: “If you realize that you are not capable of building a good ship, then do not try. Either buy a ship or have someone build it for you that can. Don’t build an unsafe ship.” Strange he didn’t use airplanes in that assessment, but I think the general idea is that he was pretty risk-averse for somebody on the bleeding edge of flying machine technology.
“I do not believe in stunting, it is the cause of nearly all accidents,” he’s quoted. “I believe in safe and sane flying only. My advice is, do not stunt much or take unnecessary chances.”
My advice, if you get the chance to build and fly your own plane, take it.