About a month ago word got out that Don Harper’s Piet was ready to fly. The first flight of some aircraft are anticipated by fans of a design because the particular rendition is of great interest. Other first flights are looked forward to because the creator is a salt of the earth, well liked guy. In Don’s case, both are true, and when the plane did its first test hops, word went out in Pietenpol circles that Don was now “in the club.”
I spoke with both Don and PF today, and heard the good news that the plane is now fully operational. The pictures below were taken at Corvair College #24, where Don and friends all pitched in with our local host PF Beck to run an outstanding event. Even from a distance, the plane shows a lot of craftsmanship and attention to detail. There are numerous small details that are very clever, the kind of stuff you would never see looking at 200 RV’s at Oshkosh. As neat as these are, the most talked about detail on Dons plane is that it utilizes a Ribblet airfoil in place of the original Pietenpol section. although they plan to release comprehensive data from testing later, neither PF or Don are leaking any preliminary data. For right now they are focused on running a low risk flight test program at Barnwell, their home airport.
Above, Pietenpols of Don Harper (near) and PF Beck (far). They are sister ships in almost every way, with two exceptions: Don’s is a long fuselage and it had a Ribblett airfoil instead of a traditional Pietenpol airfoil. Shortly, PF will be able to offer factual comparative data on the flight performance of each of the airfoils. On the internet, armchair aerodynamictists have pontificated about this from imaginary data for years. Thanks to PF and Don, we will have information worth reading.
Above, A look at Don’s engine compartment with swing out side panel. This plane uses a front starter and a basic 4 bearing set up. Both Don and PF are master old-school scroungers and skilled fabricators. These two aircraft are some of the least expensive examples of the type. When PF’s plane was done about 6 years ago, he told me that he only had $6,800 in the whole plane, including the engine. While most Corvair builders elect to buy a new carb or pay for an overhauled one, Don worked to put his own together out of parts, and spent the time to tune it. He has some small stuff to be corrected on the engine, and Grace and I were glad to help him out with this as a small thank you for all his work at several Colleges. In short order the plane ran great, and PF reports that it is a strong runner. Both planes fly 64 x 34 props that PF made.
Don Harper, (left) and P.F. Beck at sun n fun 2009. What is the best thing you have in aviation? It might be your plane you created with your own hands, engine included,…or it might be having a life long friend who loves all the same things about flying that you do. Don Harper doesn’t have to choose, he has both. I can make a pretty good case that he is one of the luckier guys in aviation, but I would also gladly say that it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.-ww