“I love low and slow,” says Kevin Purtee. “I love open cockpit. And I love wood.”
So the Pietenpol Aircamper was just the ticket for this pilot, who says he designed his life around being able to fly after getting a ride in GA airplane as “a little kid.”
Purtee served in the Army as a helicopter pilot, and later in the Texas Army National Guard, recently retiring as a Chief Warrant Officer 5. These days, he flies an EMS chopper as his day job.
But for Purtee, nothing beats a sunrise takeoff in his homemade, handmade airplane on a calm, cool morning at the historic Wisener Field in Minneola, Texas (3F9), about 100 miles east of Dallas/Fort Worth.
Purtee holds a helicopter ATP certificate with CFI and CFII ratings, a commercial ASEL and AMEL ticket with instrument ratings, and — although he doesn’t readily admit to it — he is also a genuine war hero.
One who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for landing his AH-64 Apache attack helicopter in the middle of a firefight in Ramadi, Iraq, in June 2007, to evacuate a critically wounded soldier. Purtee then flew to a medical base with the wounded soldier in the front seat, and his copilot/gunner (CPG) sitting outside on the helicopter’s stubby wing, safety-strapped to the fuselage. After delivering the wounded soldier, Purtee and his CPG returned to the battle.
Yeah, it’s an exploit that more closely matches something expected of his World War I-looking Pietenpol than one involving a modern attack helicopter.
But back to that Pietenpol, Purtee’s first and only airplane. It took him 17 years to build it. Not, Purtee says, that the work was challenging, but simply finding the time to do the work was challenging.
The only real challenge, beyond time, according to Purtee, was the fabric covering process, which he was “freaked out” about until he actually started the work, then finding it to be “eminently doable.”
He also says the building process turned him into a decent welder while working on the engine mount and landing gear.
In addition to his sunrise around-the-patch flights, he’s made six “ambitious” 1,000-mile flights to AirVenture in his Aircamper — at 60 miles per hour — and now 500 of the 6,500 hours in his logbook are in his little Pietenpol, which he named Rosie.
Why Rosie? Purtee says the plane is, “bright freakin’ red and fat, so I named her after the AC/DC song, Whole Lotta Rosie.”
“I love this machine as much as I can love an inanimate object,” he says.
The only downside of the Aircamper, according to Purtee, is that, “When it’s cold, it’s freakin’ cold.” Even wearing seven layers of clothing in the open cockpit, Purtee compares flying the Pietenpol in cold weather to “driving an old Indian motorcycle across the country in the winter.”
Beyond aviation, does he have any other passions? Purtee says that flying EMS choppers, his beloved Rosie, and studying for his A&P “pretty much takes care of it.”
What I fly
A Pietenpol Aircamper with a William Wynne-converted Corvair Engine.
Why I fly it
It’s challenging. It’s quirky. It feels good. From 1,000′ up, I can smell stuff. I can pull the throttle and yell good morning to people below. I also love the community of the plane, the fellowship it brings me.
How I fly it
Conservative, but not scared. I don’t press weather very hard, and I don’t play in thunderstorms, as I don’t have any instruments (pretty much the opposite of his professional flying). I try to challenge myself with winds of every type.
I like to shoot landings. It’s a squirrelly little airplane the way I got it set up— with tall wire wheels and the second-generation landing gear. With smaller wheels, it’s very well behaved, but there’s nothing more humbling than a plane that’s hard to land. It’s great. I love that kind of stuff.
Operating Costs Based on 100 Hours Per Year
There’s a pilot shortage. This would be a really good time to get involved in this stuff.