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Petrolje Macchi M-5



Jason Petroelje’s first project, an Emeraude RG, was a 1979 Oshkosh award winner and a feature in the May 1980 EAA Sport Aviation magazine. Other airplane projects included two World War I reproductions for a museum.

“I was building a SPAD replica for them, and they mentioned the Macchi,” Petroelje said. “I didn’t know anything about the type, but when I looked into it I decided I really liked it.”

Jason Petroelje built his beautiful Macchi M.5 flying boat using only his left hand - the one hand he had to use after a stroke 10 years earlier. “I built this thing after I had the stroke,” Petroelje said about his three-quarter scale Macchi M.5 flying boat. He added, “I built it with my left hand.” It didn't stop him, however, worked about 5,000 hours, day and night, in the cramped workshop next to his home on Hazel Avenue, turning out everything from the wing struts to the tiniest of fittings.

Petroelje’s Macchi, a type used as a fighter by the Italian forces in World War I, has the appearance of a fine, classic watercraft with a natural Honduran mahogany skin and a solid Brazilian rosewood instrument panel. The woods are both adorned with a deep, high gloss marine finish.

The control stick has a hand-carved Madagascan ebony handle, and thrust comes from a hand-laminated, hand carved cherry-and-birch propeller.

His little flying boat is three-quarter scale for a good reason. The reason for building the airplane in 7/8 scale is unique to seaplanes. Hangers next to the water with easy access are very rare. Jason had a friend who used to have a Volmer Sportsman. He had sold the airplane, but the hanger remained. Jason had to scale down the airplane to fit in this existing hanger.

No original drawings of the Macchi existed, so Petroelje had to create his own designs from a set of dimensions and from photographs. "I just went more by the dimensions," Petroelje said of the plans, which he secured years ago for $40 from "WWI Aero" magazine.

A variation drawn from experience was a decision to scale the tail to 80 percent instead of 75 percent. Petroelje said the 75-percent version was just too small.

The hull of the seaplane varies from the original as well. Petroelje layered the bottom first with plywood, then foam, and finished it off with fiberglass. The modern bottom is more durable than the likely single-plywood layer of the original and should better tolerate the rigors of normal water operations. As for the mahogany finish, no color photos exist of the type, so that choice may well be artistic license on Petroelje’s part.

The wings of the plane fold back, a feature certainly not part of the original. But at three-quarter scale, the collapsed craft is only 8 feet wide, well within legal trailering limits. This has a more modern airfoil, a 4412 like on a Luscombe.

A modern air-cooled Lycoming powerplant provides the motive force. The radiator on Petroelje’s plane, necessary for the liquid-cooled powerplant on the original, is purely decorative. The Macchi M.5 Italian fighter is mostly authentic, except for not sporting machine guns like those used during the plane's heyday.

Registered as N216JP, to Jason Petroelje of Michigan, Eric Presten did the first three flights on the Macchi M-5.

The airplane performed well, but due to limited aileron travel, Presten was only able to do flights down the lake in ground effect on the first day. It has since been flown to altitude. It gets out of the water easily on only 125 hp. The missing outer struts are now installed. The landing gear shown is only a beaching gear, as the airplane is a true seaplane. Cruise speed for the craft is around 75 miles per hour.

The replica appeared at Oshkosh 2009.


Engine: Lycoming 125-horsepower
Fuselage length: 24 feet
Wing span: 31 feet
Weight: 940 pounds
Cruising speed: Up to 70 mph
Fuel capacity: 12 gallons
Hours to build: About 5,000
Size of workshop: 18 by 24 feet


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