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Ken Heide stands next to the 1934 Pietenpol airplane he's building in his Hawley garage. He's been working on the plane for three years and hopes to have it flying by next year. (Photo by Brian Basham/DL Tribune)

Built from scratch

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If you see a guy driving down the streets of Hawley this summer in an airplane without wings, don't be alarmed. It's Ken Heide testing out his scratch-built airplane before he takes it up in the air.

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Heide has rebuilt or created all sorts of interesting things: bikes, helmets with a wing, a pedal airplane for kids. He later plans to build a boat, and is now building from scratch a 1934 Pietenpol airplane in his Hawley garage.

It's a project he's been working on in his spare time for three years now. The hard part, he said, isn't the actual building of the plane, but rather the reading and comprehending of the plans. He said he's made several pieces several times to get them to fit perfectly.

"I've finagled things a bit," he said. "It took a lot of dedication (building it). It seems to be coming together nicely."

He made the plane six inches wider and a foot longer than the original plans to fit him better.

The airplane will be powered by a 1960 Corvair engine. Other parts come from other places, for example, the gear legs are made from chunks of ash meant to become baseball bats, and the wheels are motorcycle tires.

Rather than forcing it, Heide bent the wood the old fashioned way -- out in the rain. He said when it rains, he takes the Sitka spruce wood pieces he has cut to fit and then bends them as they soak with water. Yes, he said, he gets strange looks from passersby, but it's part of the fun.

"I could wet it down, but what would be the fun in that," he said with a laugh.

When the original Pietenpol planes were built in the 1930s, they were built out of cardboard and fabric, making them very light and effective.

Heide said he's spent about $3,000 to $4,000 on the plane and it should last 20 to 30 years once it's completed -- something he hopes to do next year.

He's purchased and used "a lot of glue, a lot of tongue depressors, a lot of clamps" for the project, which is evident in his garage.

He was hoping to have it in the air this year, but next year is more likely. Once completed, it'll have to be Federal Aviation Administration inspected and approved.

"I'm hoping for next year. I'll have it ready to go and be up and flying," he said. "I will be grinning from ear to ear."

When Heide started the project, he built a bench in his garage on wheels with electricity and other amenities designed to fit the plane.

"A custom-made bench for a custom-made plane," he said.

One side of the plane is enclosed, while the other side is still open for Heide to install the cables for the controls.

The 8-9 gallon fuel tank is mounted up front, and will allow for a few hours of flying time before refueling.

The Corvair motor in the front of the plane will need to be mounted just right to balance out his weight in the second seat.

"You're thinking, 'boy, this is going to work,'" he said.

He said he's never worked on a project this big before and he was worried he wouldn't finish it, but he's "on the home stretch" now.

"It's been a fun ride so far."

The plane will fly about 70 miles an hour when airborne.

"She's not a rocket."

Heide said he plans to fly the plane in winter as much as possible.

"I've got the scarf, helmet and googily eyes (goggles)," he said with a laugh.

He plans to store the plane at the Hawley Airport, and as for his future trip down the streets of Hawley, "I'll hit every pothole in Hawley. If she holds up through all the potholes, she'll be good to fly."

Next up: restoration of a 1923 28-foot Chris-Craft boat.

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