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The Propeller under the Bed: A Personal History of Homebuilt Aircraft

The Propeller under the Bed: A Personal History of Homebuilt Aircraft

by Eileen A. Bjorkman


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On July 25, 2010, Arnold Ebneter flew across the country in a plane he designed and built himself, setting an aviation world record for aircraft of its class. He was eighty-two at the time and the flight represented the culmination of a dream he’d cultivated since his childhood in the 1930s.

Eileen Bjorkman — herself a pilot and aeronautical engineer — frames her father’s journey from teenage airplane enthusiast to Air Force pilot and Boeing engineer in the context of the rise, near extermination, and ongoing interest in homebuilt aircraft in the United States. She gives us a glimpse into life growing up in a “flying family” with two pilots for parents, a family plane named Charlie, and quite literally, a propeller under her parents’ bed.

From early airplane designs serialized in magazines to the annual Oshkosh Fly-in where you can see experimental aircraft on display, Bjorkman offers a personal take on the history of building something in your garage that you can actually (and legally) fly as well as how the homebuilt aircraft movement has contributed to aviation and innovation in America.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780295741444
Publisher: University of Washington Press
Publication date: 04/04/2017
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Eileen Bjorkman is a writer, pilot, and retired U.S. Air Force flight test engineer.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

List of Illustrations xi

1 The Flight 3

2 The Pilot's Rock 17

3 Death Knell 31

4 Sprouting Wings 40

5 Foundations 53

6 The Dream Begins 76

7 Stagnation 95

8 Holding Pattern 105

9 Young Aviation Turks 118

10 Colleen's Cub 140

11 Doldrums 152

12 Seeping in Seattle 165

13 Where's Dad? 189

Epilogue 199

Afterword 203

Sources 204

Index 206

What People are Saying About This

Charlie Precourt

The Propeller Under the Bed is a fun and inspiring story. Eileen masterfully weaves together her perspective as an aeronautical engineer and an 'insider' of the homebuilt movement with her father’s dream to design, build, and fly a world-record setting aircraft. And she tells it all in the larger context of the history of aviation. A must read for aviation enthusiasts everywhere!

W. Scott Olsen

A wonderfully compelling book. The Propeller under the Bed makes a large contribution to the aviation community.

Terry Lutz

A beautifully crafted and very personal tour of the history of homebuilt aircraft, in a manner reminiscent of the character Forrest Gump. Each step of learning to fly, growing as a family within the military, and the dream of setting a long distance record is woven into the evolution of homebuilt aircraft. That propeller under the bed moves this story forward in ways that make it an essential read for aviation enthusiasts and homebuilders young or old.

Russell Lee

Bjorkman does a good job of weaving a thoughtful and interesting history of the homebuilt aircraft movement into the more personal account of her father’s flying career.


On July 25, 2010, Eileen Bjorkman’s 82-year-old father, Arnold Ebneter, took off from Paine Field in Everett, Washington, to set an aviation world record in an airplane he designed himself and built in his garage in Woodinville, Washington. The 2,300-mile non-stop flight took the retired Air Force pilot and Boeing engineer eighteen hours, but the preparation took fifty years. A curiosity and aviation sideshow at one time, homebuilt aircraft now make up about one in five small, privately-owned aircraft in the United States. With contributions that include fabric covering systems, sturdy landing gears, and affordable avionics, homebuilt aircraft are a small but ever-growing part of aviation’s DNA.Bjorkman uses her background as a pilot, would-be homebuilder, and aeronautical engineer to intertwine the century-long history and culture of homebuilt aircraft in the United States with Ebneter’s fifty-year struggle to build his airplane. Along the way lay tales of derring-do pioneers and their fragile craft that could barely become airborne to visionaries that kept homebuilding freedoms alive in the 1940s and modern homebuilts that rival and even surpass the performance and quality of factory-built aircraft.In addition to the narrative, the book provides a non-technical window into the world of aircraft design and construction: What’s involved in designing an airplane? How do you assemble a kit airplane? How have airplane designs evolved? Why would anyone want to build an airplane, instead of just buying one? The book may also be useful as a supplementary text for a first class in aircraft design.

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