Mr. Pietenpol: Bill Rewey Famed Aircamper Homebuilder Turns A Page

by Ed Leineweber

Ed Leineweber

Maybe you noticed the ad on the bulletin board of your local airport: For Sale ’94 Pietenpol Aircamper NX17WR. Whether you realized it or not, if you saw that ad, you were looking at a small piece of aviation history. And whether we want to admit it or not, we are all getting older. This little postcard-size For Sale ad, and my recent interview with William Rewey of Verona, Wisconsin, once again brought this lesson home to me.

Other lessons came to mind as well, such as: work hard, play hard, fly often! But, most importantly, the impending sale of Bill’s beloved Aircamper impressed me with the need to share our joy of flying and airplanes with others, especially the younger folks coming along. Bill Rewey has made this his life’s work.

Bill Rewey’s long career as a go-to guy in the Pietenpol world, and his equally impressive accomplishment of conducting more than 600 Young Eagles flights, many in that venerable Pietenpol, showed me how one soft-spoken, gentle man, endowed with engineering talents, a love of people and a surplus of aviation enthusiasm, can make a tremendous difference.

I first became aware of Bill Rewey while conducting tail wheel transition training for a Pietenpol builder who is also a good friend of Bill’s. Another student pilot and Aircamper builder also mentioned Bill frequently. I figured I needed to meet this guy, and my opportunity came when I started the restoration of my Bowers Fly Baby. Bill is also quite knowledgeable on the Continental A65, often used on Pientenpols and the engine of choice for most Fly Baby builders. He volunteered to be my EAA Technical Counselor on the restoration project.

Many of you might already know of Bill as the guy who has given the Pietenpol forums at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, Brodhead and, on a couple of occasions, Sun ‘N’ Fun since the late 1990s, after another Pietenpol worthy expert, Vi Kapler, ceased doing them. Although he doesn’t spend much time on the Internet, Bill Rewey is a recognized Pietenpol guru, and many a builder has benefited tremendously from his written materials and expert advice.

But Bill’s aviation career started long before taking up the Pietenpol banner. Born in 1927 in Marshfield, Wisconsin, Bill built balsa wood, tissue-covered model airplanes as a young boy. In his 1942 high school woodworking class, he and his classmates built small wooden models, painted flat black, of many military aircraft then seeing action in the war raging overseas. Bill had to show the wood shop instructor how to make exact scale solid models. These models were provided to “spotters” to enable them to identify the aircraft they might be seeing overhead.

By 1945, Bill had earned enough money repairing furniture in his spare time to take flight lessons in a J-3 Cub at the old Marshfield airport. He soloed that year at age 17. After high school, Bill joined the Navy on a program that let him attend the University of Wisconsin in Madison, which also allowed him to fly the Aeronca Chiefs at nearby Morey Airport in Middleton. However, after two years the young midshipman was ordered to pre-flight training, and had to set his college education aside and pursue the life of a naval aviator in the making.

After pre-flight training, the three years that followed found Bill at naval air bases in Pensacola and Jacksonville, Florida, where he trained in North American SNJs and F4U Corsairs, learning night and instrument flight, carrier landings, and gunnery and rocket weapons systems. He earned his Navy wings in November 1948. In the years that followed before his discharge from active duty in the summer of 1950, Bill received anti-submarine warfare training and was assigned to ASW Squadron VS22 out of Norfolk, Virginia, flying TBM Avengers.

Bill married Marion in the summer of 1949 and, following his discharge, returned to the University of Wisconsin and was awarded his Mechanical Engineering Degree in 1952.

During college and while still living in the Madison area, Bill joined the Naval Reserve squadron at Glenview Naval Air Station north of Chicago, where he flew the Marin AM, a single-engine dive and torpedo-bomber.

Following graduation, he moved his young family to Columbus, Ohio, where he took a job with North American Aviation, which was then building FJ-3s and AJ-7s at its plant there. Joining the local reserve unit nearby, Bill had the opportunity to fly the McDonald FH-1, the Navy’s first carrier jet. How did it fly? According to the former J-3 student pilot, “like a big Cub,” of course.

After a year in Columbus, the Reweys returned to the Madison area, where Bill took a job first with the engineering firm of Mead & Hunt, and later with the State of Wisconsin. Over his 40-year professional career he developed skills and knowledge working on a host of mechanical engineering projects and applications, and eventually retired from state service in 1992.

During the early years back in Madison, Bill was busy with family and professional responsibilities and did very little flying. Moreover, a bout with Polio grounded him completely for two years, although he eventually recovered with very little permanent damage. He did, however, participate with a small group of pilots that flew a Piper Cub out of the Waunakee, Wisconsin airport.

Always the woodworker, Bill joined a radio controlled aircraft club in the 1960s and made and flew several of these scale models. After a couple of years of this, however, Marion suggested that he use his skills and interest to build “a real airplane.” Who among us would not accept our spouse’s direction on such a momentous matter? Soon Bill started on his first Pietenpol project.

The plans cost him $25, and he found a single-mag 50-hp Franklin engine for $150, including extra parts and two propellers. McCormick Lumber on Madison’s east side furnished most of the wood, and all the rest was scrounged up a little here and a little there. Bill had a total of $950 invested in that Aircamper by the time he had it finished in 1972. He flew it to Oshkosh that summer.

Like many homebuilders, Bill found flying the finished project fun, but he missed the construction experience. Eventually he traded the Pietenpol for a Volmer VJ22 amphib project. Bill spent the next six years working on the all-wood fuselage aircraft, which sports Aeronca wings and tail, until it got too big to fit in his barn. The Volmer was sold and Bill’s second “Piet,” NX17WR, began to take shape soon thereafter.

This second Aircamper, built between 1986 and 1994, has seen a lot of flying over the past 17 years. Bill flew it to AirVenture in 1995 and every year since.  He also flew it to Sun ‘N’ Fun in 1995, and three more times in later years. That’s quite a feat for a Pietenpol and its pilot! With the Aircamper now up for sale, Bill can look back on about 600 Pietenpol flight hours and many of the more than 600 Young Eagles flights credited to him flown in that machine. I’ll bet very few small wooden homebuilts of any description will match Bill’s flying accomplishments in NX17WR!

When I asked Bill why he was selling his Pietenpol now, he said that it was getting a little harder to get that first leg up into the cockpit, and besides, he has the Zenair CH801 to fly now. Yup, Bill built that four-place, 160-hp all-metal hummer in his spare time over a 9-year period a while back, and since then has been happily adding to his Young Eagles flights in that aircraft as well.

Over his 65 years of flying, Bill and Marion have owned type-certified production aircraft – first a Stinson 10-A, and later a Cessna 150 and two C-172s, and flown them all over North America, including to San Diego, the Bahamas (three times), and Alaska (two times). Ask Bill sometime about the mis-fueling incident at a small airport on the Arctic Circle that nearly made them bear food. They have enjoyed adventures together and made memories that, now as the years begin to catch up to them, prove to be a treasure chest of well-spent time and money.

Bill Rewey has accumulated about 3,400 hours as PIC, with his commercial pilot certificate and instrument rating. He has been a member of local EAA chapters for over 40 years and volunteers his time doing the Pietenpol forums and also contributes to various Pietenpol publications. As mentioned already, he is an EAA Technical Counselor and is listed on the EAA Speakers Bureau. Quite the amateur aeronautical engineer, Bill has fashioned an ingenious method of adding a starter to the Continental A65 engine.

Following his retirement, Bill agreed to teach model airplane building to youngsters in after-school classes. Over one hundred “future pilots” have experienced the satisfaction of seeing their creations actually fly. In 1994, Bill supervised EAA Chapter 93’s construction of a Corben Super Ace replica which hangs in the passenger terminal of the Dane County Regional Airport in Madison, Wisconsin.

These days find Bill focusing on the home front, working around the house, and tending to the needs of Marion, his bride these past 62 years. He still finds time, however, to spend at the airport, working on repairs to the CH801, which suffered an engine failure forced landing back in 2009. Soon he will have it in the air again, probably giving more Young Eagles the gift of their first flight.

And, oh yeah, Bill will be at AirVenture this summer, giving the Pietenpol forum as usual and holding forth in the Aircamper or Zenith show plane area out on the flight line. Stop by, say hello and thank him for a job well done!

This entry was posted in Columns, June/July 2011, People, Sport Pilot/Grassroot/Recreational Flying and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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