Vi Kapler passes from this Earth, age 88.

Builders,

Devoted Minnesota aviator John Schmidt sent word that, Vi Kapler, the strongest living personal connection to the life’s work of Bernard Pietenpol, passed from earth last night. A very rich book of memories, knowledge, and understanding has been closed, never to be opened again. If you are a Pietenpol builder, a fan of the life of BHP, or fascinated by early homebuilding, it is hard overstate what has slipped from our grasp.

.

I was fortunate to have spent a number of hours with the man, in person, listening to what he knew and thought. He was kind and humble. I borrowed the photos below from several websites, to remind Piet builders of what he looked like. This is important, because he surely had countless conversations with builders at Brodhead, and perhaps half of them didn’t understand that they were speaking with Vi Kapler.  He was the kind of guy who could share something with a new builder without needing to be pre-understood as the living authority on Pietenpols.

.

Vi’s list of contributions to Pietenpol building is very long, but I treasured most the fact that he had worked for many years, side by side with Bernard Pietenpol, and you could ask him almost anything about the experience and he was glad to share it.

.

The stories most people tell about working with people understood to be famous or legends tend to get polished with every re-telling, until become something of a caricature rather than a sharp photo. The things Vi shared were just the opposite, they all had a real grit and grain to them which gave you the feeling that it happened yesterday. You were left with the feeling you had just be given a real look at how it was, and how it will never quite be again.

.

Blue skies and tailwinds Vi, thank you for leaving aviation a richer place than you found it.  -ww.

.

IMG_2149.JPG

Vi with a model A powered air camper

.

Vi Kapler looking at N63PZ

At the 2013 Brodhead Pietenpol fly-in, Vi with a cane, looks at Pat and Mary Hoyt’s Zenith. Vi  made many parts for Corvairs in the 1970s and 80s.

.

Above, in the blue hat, sitting on the bench at Brodhead.

.

————————————————

.

I used to call BHP ‘Bernie” in my writing. I can tell you the exact minute I stopped this. I was speaking with Vi Kappler at Brodhead, in the MacDonald’s in town. It was early in the morning on Saturday, about 10 years ago. Listening to Vi, he was speaking of a man who was not an aviation legend, but a dear personal friend, who was gone. When Vi said the name ‘Bernie’, it suddenly struck me as private, sacred and something that was not mine to use in Vi’s presence. BHP, was my hero, but he was Vi’s friend, and to use the familiar name in Vi’s presence seemed very wrong. I stopped right there, and have written ‘Bernard’ ever since, because I never wanted to imply I was friends with the man, especially not to anyone who really was.

.

————————————

For further reading:

.

Don Pietenpol Passes, 1/8/14

.

B.H. Pietenpol, Patron Saint of Homebuilding

.

Cherry Grove story, “The long way home”

.

Cherry Grove story, Part 2.

.

 

From The Past: With Steve Wittman 20 years ago today

Builders,

Many days in life pass without distinction, a handful of others stay with you for good, not just as a static memory but as a turning point in your personal perspective. 20 years ago today was such a day in my life.

.

blog121114stevewittmanww1211

Above, 12/11/94, I stand next Steve Wittman, after flying with him in his Olds V-8 powered Tailwind, N37SW. Today this plane hangs in the terminal of Oshkosh airport which is named in Wittman’s honor.

.

There was a tradition at Embry-Riddle that senior engineering students were invited over to Leeward Air Ranch in Ocala FL after the semester was over, for a long social day. One of the professors was married into the Leeward family, and it was always an exceptional event. Although I had already graduated, I knew the instructor and asked to come along. Out of the group of students, I was the only person who knew what the large “W” over Judy Leeward’s neighbors door stood for.

.

I looked over into his hangar, and Steve’s wife Paula came out, invited me to wander through their hangar which had the Old’s Tailwind, The O to O special and the V-Witt in it. She said Steve would be back shortly, and he would be glad to take me flying. I was stunned. While waiting for his return, I mentioned this to Judy Leeward, who assured me that if Paula said it was good, it would not be an intrusion into their day.

.

We went flying for just 25 minutes. It started with a brief efficiency demonstration that the plane could do 125 mph at 2,500 rpm and 18″ of manifold pressure, the same power setting it took to taxi in 6″ of wet grass. This lead to 195 mph flybys on the deck and a long series of very smooth positive G aerobatic maneuvers. It would have been a skilled display for any pilot, far less one who was 91 years old.

.

After landing we spoke about the modifications to the 215 Olds, an engine I knew pretty well. There were a few photos, including the one above. A moment after it was taken, Steve looked at me and said with some disgust “You are wearing a Monocoupe shirt” He didn’t say anything else about it, as if disliking Monocoupes as the most natural thing any aviator would do.

.

When I got home I wrote him a brief thank you note and mailed it the next day. A few months alter I saw Steve and Paula at their forum at Sun n Fun. She recognized me an said that the note was unexpected and made her and Steve feel appreciated.  Two weeks later they both perished in the crash of the O to O special on their way back north to their summer home, Oshkosh.

.

I have carried forward the lesson that most of the good things that have happened in my life in aviation took place because I showed up for them. The aviators I have known have almost always showed themselves to be very kind and generous people. They will gladly share what they know and have experienced with anyone who is genuinely interested, but you have to be there.

.

The sole important difference between myself and my roommates who didn’t go flying with Steve that day was I got in the car and drove 100 miles to be there, and they didn’t. You can spend a lot of time looking at magazines and websites, lamenting the expense and difficulty of engaging in aviation, or you can decide that in 2015 you will not lose an opportunity to have your own event in aviation, one that you will remember 20 years later.-ww.

.

———————————————————

.

“If you look at their lives close enough, all of the greats offer something to guide us in pursuit of the timeless truth of flying. Pietenpol teaches that we are more likely to find it in the simplest of planes; Lindbergh knew that you started your search inside yourself; Gann said that we will not see the truth directly, but you can watch it at work in the actions of airmen; and Wittman showed that if you flew fast enough, for long enough, you just might catch it. These men, and many others, spent the better part of their lives looking for this very illusive ghost. Some of them paid a high price, but you get the impression they all thought it was worth it. ” – from our Oshkosh 2008 coverage, -ww.