Steel tubing, wood and fabric.

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WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
The plane that crashed in a lagoon north of the Manitou airstrip Thursday morning is loaded on a trailer.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The plane that crashed in a lagoon north of the Manitou airstrip Thursday morning is loaded on a trailer.

Steel tubing, wood and fabric.

Those are the raw materials for a homebuilt plane like the kind that crashed in Manitou.

The Acro Sport II is a big step up from the wood-and-wire wings the Wright brothers fashioned for their historic flight, but there's no mistaking the nostalgic appeal of this biplane.

This is the kind of plane with an open cockpit you see in old movies, where an aviator's scarf flutters like a silk banner behind the handsome pilot as he lifts off.

The practical reality is the biplane hasn't been available through an airplane manufacturer since the 1930s.

It can only be had by building one yourself or buying one second-hand.

For all that, it's as safe as any aircraft that takes to the sky, aviation experts on both sides of the border insist.

"I've seen the fantastic workmanship of the homebuilt planes and I know a lot of homebuilders. They take great pride in good workmanship," said Shirley Render, executive director of the Western Canada Aviation Museum. "If it's properly built, it's safe."

Federal aviation regulations are strict for planes built under amateur construction.

"They're built under strict regulations. You're not allowed to fly them unless they've been inspected every step of the way by a Transport Canada inspector," Render said.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Archives
An Acro Sport II biplane sits at the Lyncrest Airfield, as part of the Western Canada Aviation Museum�s Flyin� BBQ.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Archives An Acro Sport II biplane sits at the Lyncrest Airfield, as part of the Western Canada Aviation Museum�s Flyin� BBQ.

That means before the plane's ribs and struts are covered, every rivet gets an inspector's gaze first.

The model of biplane in the Manitou crash is an Acro Sport II, designed in the 1970s by an American aviator famous for aircraft designs.

Paul Poberezny spent 30 years in the U.S. Air Force, serving in the Second World War and in Korea flying more than 400 different types of aircraft. He started flying at age 16.

In 1953, he founded the Experimental Aviation Association in Oshkosh, Wis., for flyers who wanted to build their own planes.

Today, the EAA is home of the biggest private air show in the world.

Poberezny designed hundreds of planes in his lifetime but the biplane held a special appeal, said a technical specialist at EAA's Oshkosh headquarters on Thursday.

"The big appeal is the nostalgia factor... You have an open cockpit. You can hear the wind whistling and in the homebuilt movement, the biplane remained the most popular style until the 1960s," said Tim Hoversten, EAA's technical aviation specialist.

The Acro Sport II is not a kit to assemble. The aviator had better be good with a plane and saw or have the money to buy from a builder who is.

"It's not built from parts that are made. You have to make every part," Hoversten said. "It's made from steel tubing, wood and fabric. Those are the major construction materials."

You can build an Acro Sport II for as little as $20,000 from scratch. New, an engine alone will set you back $20,000.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Acro Sport II

Basic dimensions for a Acro Sport II, a biplane with an open cockpit designed by American aviator Paul Poberezny:

Tandem two-seater

Weight: About 700 kilograms

Wingspan 6.6 metres

Length: 5.7 metres,

Height: About two metres

Range: 692 kilometres

Maximum ceiling: 6,000 metres

Maximum speed, 245 km/h

Cruising speed, 198 km/h

-- source: Wikipedia, verified through the Experimental Aircraft Association.