Friday, June 19, 2009
Lou Hartwig flying the XH-26 Jet Jeep
Lou Hartwig was the test pilot that made all the flight tests on the Bell 533 progect with Walter Sonneborne as the Fligh Test engineer (he became a vp in engeneering) and Lou became chief pilot and manager of all flight operations.The aircraft is on display at Fort Eustes, Norfolk Va. Lou Hartwig's first airborne experience was with the Army's 304th artillery battalion as a spotter pilot in the South Pacific. He flew a Piper L-4 on missions in Guam and Okinawa. Hartwig was discharged as a second lieutenant at the end of World War II. Although he longed to pursue a career in aviation, the reservist found himself competing for work with a sea of unemployed military pilots. In 1946, the first commercial helicopter was introduced, the Bell 47B. Hartwig attended a course offered by Bell and was certified as a pilot, leading to a string of crop dusting jobs, the first widespread application for the craft. While in Sacramento spraying a field of hops infested with red spider mites, Hartwig was overcome by chemical fumes from tanks on either side of him and passed out at the controls. The landing gear of his helicopter snagged a power line and the craft lurched forward, ejecting Hartwig from the open cockpit, within inches of the whirring rotor blades. The helicopter was destroyed. “They took tests and found my blood was saturated with that chemical,” Hartwig said. “The Federal Aviation Administration said it was an 'unsurvivable' accident. I was just lucky.” Hartwig spent 11 months recovering in the hospital, he said, during which time he was spared a call to serve in the Korean War. Lou Hartwig was hired as a test pilot for Bell on 15th February 1955. The first production Bell 61 rolled out in early 55 and he was involved early in the program. During his time at Bell, Hartwig set several speed records. He once soared along at 315 mph in a Bell 533 helicopter, powered by Learjet engines, about twice the speed helicopters typically fly. Hartwig was the sole test pilot for American Helicopter's XH-26, nicknamed the “Jet Jeep.” Commissioned by the U.S. Army, the collapsible craft was powered by two jet engines, one mounted on each end of its single-blade rotor.