- Associated Press - Monday, May 18, 2015

MINOT, N.D. (AP) - When the red, white and blue Starduster Too biplane soared into the air April 4 on its first test flight, it was a milestone and an event for two families.

The late Al Pietsch of Minot taught the plane’s builder, Bob Engkvist of Maddock, how to fly in 1985. Now, Pietsch’s two sons were instrumental in the Starduster’s first flight, with Kent Pietsch flying the plane and Warren Pietsch, accompanied by Jay Blessum, flying the chase plane.

The plane made a successful first flight, the Minot Daily News (https://bit.ly/1JaIdxf ) reported.

“It lands nice,” said Kent, returning from the flight. The plane reached about 150 mph.

Test flights are rather rare here. The most recent one was about 10 years ago, Warren said.

After the Starduster’s flight, the group gathered to talk about the flight and the building project.

Trent Teets, of Casselton, designated air worthiness representative for the Federal Aviation Administration, made an inspection of the plane prior to the Saturday afternoon flight.

“Today was the first day it was available to fly,” he said.

As designated air worthiness representative, Teets gives the initial certification for experimental aircraft.

Engkvist’s idea to build a Starduster was inspired by Al Pietsch, who built one of these planes.

“That’s where it started for me for sure,” Engkvist said. “I graduated from high school in 1985 in Maddock and I thought I was going to be an ag pilot. That’s what I wanted to do was spray (crops) so I wanted to learn to fly.”

He started taking flying lessons from Al Pietsch in the fall of 1985.

“Alfred’s Starduster always would be in the lobby over there,” Engkvist said, indicating Pietsch Aircraft Restoration and Repair, formerly Pietsch Flying Service. “I about wore the carpet out walking around it looking at it and then I’d visit with Alfred about it. I said someday I want to build one of these.”

Today, Al Pietsch’s Starduster is in the Dakota Territory Air Museum in Minot.

It took Engkvist about 10 years when he finally decided to make the commitment to build a Starduster. He ordered the blueprints in August 1994 and visited with Al Pietsch about his plans.

For the next years he worked off and on building the Starduster in his shop on his farm. He quit farming in 1998 and rented it out, then worked as an aircraft mechanic for an aircraft company in Devils Lake for five years. Now he works for Summers Manufacturing in Maddock, a company that builds farm equipment.

Warren Pietsch saw a few photos of the project over the years and then saw it at Engkvist’s farm shop a couple years ago.

“I was extremely impressed,” Warren said. At the time, there was no covering on the plane yet.

Asked how he chose the colors for the plane, Engkvist said it was an adaptation from the movie “Cloud Dancer” with actor David Carradine.

“That’s what kind of started it for me with this paint scheme. But I liked it reversed,” he said. The plane in the movie was mostly all red.

“It’s gorgeous and the paint job looks spectacular,” Warren said of Engkvist’s plane.

Engkvist finished building the plane in December 2014, then removed the wings and hauled it to Minot on a trailer recently.

When Kent Pietsch took the plane up on its first flight on April 4, all eyes of the group gathered on the ground including Engkvist, his wife Sherri, and their son, Gannon, were riveted to the plane to see how it would respond.

When it was done, Gannon replied, “Now we know it flies.”

Gannon, a sophomore in Maddock, helped his dad with some of the plane building project. Whether he will fly it at some time? “Maybe,” Gannon said.

As for Sherri, she doesn’t fly but takes an active part in the project.

“Actually the first date I ever took her on, I took her flying,” Bob Engkvist said.

The Engkvists were glad the inspection and first flight were over.

“It’s a huge milestone,” Bob said. But there’s still more to be done before he can fly the plane as he wishes.

Forty hours of test flying needs to be completed first, Blessum said.

Bob also is taking flying instructions from Warren to prepare him to fly the Starduster.

Referring to those who were part of Saturday’s events, Sherri said, “They’re a great group of people.”

“My wife and son have been so supportive through the building stage and always encouraged me, even when I thought I’d never finish it,” Bob Engkvist said.

“I also can’t say enough about the help and support I have received from Warren and Kent Pietsch. Without them yesterday’s events would not have gone so smooth or have been so memorable. They are very busy guys and I am extremely fortunate that they are willing to take time out of their busy schedules and mentor me through this phase,” he said.

Kent flew the plane again later that day and had another successful flight, Bob Engkvist said.


Information from: Minot Daily News, https://www.minotdailynews.com

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