Porterfield and Beech Bonanza Aircraft in 1947

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Back to Arnold at Rennselaer during his first semester in 1947 and his money woes. By the end of April, he had saved $105 from his pin-setting duties, which was enough money to take care of living expenses for the rest of the semester. He quit working so he could focus on his studies, and the strategy worked — he got all As and Bs.

However, he discovered at the end of May that he had forgotten to save enough money for his return trip home by train. Rather than head back to the bowling alley to earn some more money, he convinced his cousin Carl, who now had his own shiny new pilot’s license, to fly his Porterfield airplane to New York and pick him up.

Click Here to view a photo of a Porterfield

A description of the upcoming trip to his parents provides some insight into the state of small aircraft navigation in 1947: “I also told [Carl] that, since this is country where they have no section lines, he should be sure to get a good compass.”

After spending the summer flying BT-13s in Poynette, Arnold still didn’t have his commercial or flight instructor ratings. He headed back to Rennselear that fall, but decided to drop out after the fall semester when Rennselear raised the tuition to $350. He discovered that the University of Minnesota had a good aeronautical engineering program, so he deicded to go there instead.

During his last semester at Rensselear, Arnold also saw his first Beech Bonanza, a speedy single-engine airplane that could carry four people. He thought it was a “swell” airplane, but noted that it should be, since it cost $9,000. The Bonanza he saw would have been the same model that Buddy Holley was riding in when he died on February 3, 1959.

Click here for a picture of a 1947 Beech Bonanza


Arnold Ebneter’s First Airplane Design

In 1947, although Arnold had yet to take the engineering classes he needed to learn the mysteries of designing airplanes, his lack of knowledge didn’t stop him from fantasizing about what he might do. After only one month at Rensselaer, he was already trying to find a way to turn a two-seat PT-23 into an airplane with three seats. Why exactly he wanted to do this is not clear, but he was sure he could do it.

Even better would be to make money with an airplane. In April, he wrote his parents and told them, only half-jokingly, that he wanted to build an airplane and win the light aircraft division of the National Air Races held in Cleveland, Ohio in September. To prove he could do it, he included a sketch of the proposed airplane at the bottom of his letter. He named his design “The Dreamer.” The Dreamer is shown below. He never completed the design or built the airplane, but some of the features below can be seen in the airplane he eventually built to set a world distance record. But more on that much later!

The Dreamer

Arnold’s Idea for the 1947 National Air Races: The Dreamer

Arnold Ebneter: Student Engineer and Itinerant Pilot

Sorry I have taken so long to get the next post up! I have been in the middle of moving from California back to Washington State. I’m now somewhat settled in (although still surrounded by boxes). My internet is running and I got my printer working this afternoon. Now all I need to do is find the espresso machine and I’ll be all set! On the other hand, there is a Starbucks within walking distance, so I’m not going to go into latte withdrawal (after all, this is the Seattle area).

Enough about me! When we last left Arnold, he had just received his private pilot certificate and he was eager to start using it. Let’s pick up at the beginning of Chapter 2, currenty titled “The Itinerant Pilot.” You’ll see why over the next several posts.

After earning his private pilot’s license, Arnold worked as a mechanic for Forrest and Paul at their struggling flying service through most of the fall of 1946. Although Arnold loved working with both of them, the partners had apparently not thought about any sort of business plan – they seemed to hope that people would just show up in Poynette to start flying their war-surplus airplanes. However, if people are going to fly airplanes, they need instructors to teach them, and neither Paul nor Forrest seemed in any hurry to get their civilian instructor certificates. Knowing that Arnold was eager to earn a living flying, they instead  pressured him to obtain his flight instructor rating, but he first needed a commercial pilot’s license. Arnold also needed a mechanic’s license so he could work on airplanes unsupervised, and, although he was game for the additional ratings, he soon had to put his flying and mechanic careers on hold to start college at Rensselear Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

After Thanksgiving, Arnold took a train from Portage to Troy, arriving in early December. In his first letter home, he dutifully recounted his “refresher” schedule to his parents – Mechanical Drawing, Physics Lecture, Physics Lab, Trigonometry, and Physics Test – and suggested a briefcase as a Christmas present to help him lug around the load of books and drafting supplies he had just purchased for his classes.

Within a few weeks after arriving in Troy, Arnold already missed flying, but flying in Troy was out of the question due to both time and money. The only decent planes available to rent were located an eight mile bus ride away in Albany, and they were too expensive, especially since he could no longer trade his mechanical skills for flying time. When his parents wrote to him that Forrest and Paul had each bought war-surplus BT-13s, he was green with envy and yearned to be back in Wisconsin flying them. He wrote back, “All I can say is some day I’m going to own one [a BT-13] . . .” Then in February 1947, adding insult to injury, his cousin Carl bought an airplane, a Porterfield, so he could start flying lessons as well. It seemed to Arnold that everyone he knew owned an airplane and was flying but him.

By New Year’s Eve, Arnold was adjusting well to college life and enjoying the freedom of being on his own for the first time. He wrote to his parents that people were already noticing his pleasure at his freedom, which he attributed to the “Swiss independence” of his heritage. In line with his growing maturity, he penned, “I figure that if I can learn to handle my problems alone now while they’re not too big, it will make it a lot easier when I do run into some real problems.”