The Little Pilots

I’m in the Seattle area for my Christmas holiday, and I’ve spent part of it combing through old letters, newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia at Arnold’s house for part of my book research. I’m very lucky that my grandmother (Arnold’s mother) saved most of the letters he wrote home during his early college years. In addition to being hilarious in places, they provide a wealth of insight not only into Arnold’s personality but describe some of the details of post-World War II life in the United States. My mother also left behind a terrific scrapbook she kept in high school and early college that is another gold mine of information. In addition, I found many of Arnold’s letters from Vietnam and a letter from a deployment to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Here’s one of my favorite pictures of Arnold from his childhood. It’s a family photo probably taken on a farm, but no one is sure who took it or how the two boys in the picture got their pilot helmets and goggles. The three women in the photo are Arnold’s mother (in the middle) and her two sisters.


Arnold is the “little pilot” on the left and his cousin Carl is the one on the right. Arnold and Carl are about the same age, and five or six in the picture. Both would go on to become Air Force pilots. In fact, the flying bug seems to have infected the whole family. Arnold’s younger brother, Frank, the infant in his mother’s arms, also became an Air Force pilot, and Carl had two younger brothers not yet born who became civilian pilots.

After yearning to fly for many years, Arnold finally took his first flight in an airplane when he was eight. The exhilaration of that short 15-minute flight with a passing barnstormer instantly hooked Arnold, setting him on an aviation course for the rest of his life.

About the Website Title

The title for this website and soon-to-be-book was inspired by Arnold’s wife Colleen (and my mother).

In 1970, while stationed at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle, Arnold bought a propeller, along with a 65 horsepower Lycoming engine, for $250 from a second lieutenant also stationed at Eglin. Arnold planned to use the propeller on his world-record-setting airplane. He soon decided not to use the engine and sold it, but he kept the propeller (shown below).


Arnold needed a place to store the propeller that would keep it away from the humidity and salt air of Northwest Florida. Since he didn’t have a garage, he convinced Colleen to store the propeller under their bed, where it remained for many years, occasionally interrupted by five local and cross-country moves. Sometime in the late 1980s, the propeller somehow graduated to a corner of their dining room, creating quite a conversation piece.

Colleen always joked that if Arnold ever finally got around to building and flying his airplane, she would write a book called, “The Propeller Under the Bed.” However, due to her untimely death in 1999, she was unable to realize her own dream, so I am here to see it through.

Welcome to The Propeller Under the Bed!

On July 25, 2010, 82-year-old Arnold Ebneter took off from Everett, Washington and flew his small airplane more than 2300 miles across the United States to set a world distance record for aircraft weighing 500 kilograms. His non-stop flight took about eighteen hours, but the design, construction, testing, and pre-flight preparation encompassed fifty years. Although most significant aviation world records in modern times are set with the help of large teams of people and corporate sponsorships, Ebneter did everything on his own. He designed the airplane in 1960 as a project to finish his college degree, collected parts for more than thirty years, built the airplane for ten years in his garage, and finally tested and refined the design for five years before the airplane was ready to set the record.

What drove Ebneter to set a world record in the first place, especially one that requires sitting in a cramped cockpit for more than eighteen hours straight? And how was he able to hold onto his youthful dream for decades despite the realities of a full life that included work, family commitments, and other life events?

My name is Eileen Bjorkman, and I am one of Arnold’s daughters, and also a pilot. I will offer answers to these questions through this website and a book I am writing titled “The Propeller Under the Bed: A Pilot’s Fifty Year Pursuit of an Aviation World Record.”

Written in non-technical jargon, the book will chronicle Arnold’s flying adventures and misadventures as he crisscrossed the United States and the world flying research balloons in Minnesota and New Mexico, fighter airplanes in Vietnam, a cargo airplane carrying fish in Alaska, and a thunderstorm research airplane in New Mexico before finally settling down to build and fly his record setting airplane, the E-1. Along the way lay tales of loss, hope, resiliency, creativity, and finally, the satisfaction of fulfilling a lifelong dream.

Please check back often! As I write the book, I will post excerpts from the book, photos, and content that is interesting but won’t be included in the book. Please e-mail me at if you have any feedback or suggestions for content.