A Love Affair with the Air: Few aviation companies today can claim to have a history that goes all the way back to the age of the Wright Brothers, but Hartzell Propeller certainly can. For a century now, Hartzell has invested in advancing propeller technology to make flying safer and more efficient.
The same passion for flight that drove the Wright Brothers to create the world’s first controllable, powered aircraft was the same passion that inspired young Robert Hartzell to secretly take flying lessons while enrolled in engineering courses at the University of Cincinnati. Robert wanted to be a barnstormer, a flying stunt pilot. He even purchased his own aircraft, taking flight from early dirt runways and landing in pillowy amber fields in Ohio farm country.
While working in an aircraft repair and rebuilding business, Robert learned how often wooden propellers were failing in the skies over Europe during World War I. His experiences working with the walnut wood at his father’s wood manufacturing company taught him that he could successfully make improvements to the propellers by adjusting the materials with which they were made.
Robert formed a friendship with Orville Wright in 1917, which led to a discussion about how the Hartzell wood business could manufacture propellers. Those early propellers were hewn from walnut wood, glued with laminations, and carved by hand to the appointed dimensions. Robert could not have known that the business he took up because of his love affair with the air would be the beginning of a powerful legacy that would carry the honor of his family’s name into the 21st century.
The onset of World War II resulted in a surge of wartime orders for Hartzell propellers, and in 1942 Hartzell began manufacturing its first aluminium propellers. Toward the end of the war, Robert began investing in the development of lighter, more durable materials to manufacture propellers.
This led to the creation of Hartzite, an early composite material, which was made using cotton fabric and thermosetting resin.
In 1952 the company used magnesium blades to create new manufacturing techniques, and also developed the first full feathering and unfeathering propeller during this period. By 1964, the need for more durable and efficient propeller systems for turboprop aircraft led Hartzell to discontinue production of wooden fixed-pitch propellers and focus on more advanced constant-speed propeller systems.
Hartzell continues to make great strides in advancing composite blade technology. In 1978, Hartzell certified the first structural composite propeller for the GA market, utilizing carbon fibre and Kevlar for the CASA 212 utility aircraft. Then in 1985, the FAA issued Hartzell the industry’s first unlimited service life designation for composite blades.
In 2006, Hartzell received certification for its second generation Advanced Structural Composite (ASC-II) for use in GA aircraft. The Hartzell ASC-II consists of a unique monocoque structure of advanced composite and carbon fibre materials. Unlike natural composite blades, which feature a wood core, Hartzell blades are pure composite, which is even stronger than aluminum. Better materials equal more efficient and optimized blade design, and ultimately better performance for pilots and their aircraft.
The ASC-II’s structure consists of carbon fibre laminates integrated into a co-molded stainless steel shank. The leading edge outboard of the de-ice boot is protected with a co-molded electroformed nickel erosion shield. Over the past decade years, many certified original airframe manufacturers, including Beechcraft, Cirrus, Daher TBM, Pilatus, and Piper, have selected the ASC-II blade as standard equipment due to its durability, low weight, low inertia, and low lifecycle costs. Hartzell also offers opportunities for general aviation pilots to significantly improve the performance of their aircraft with the company’s innovative Top Prop conversion program. With conversion kits for dozens of aircraft, from Beechcraft, Cessna, Piper, Mooney, and more, the Top Prop program strives to provide modern solutions for GA pilots.
The conversion program is designed to address a number of common after-market propeller needs, whether it’s shorter take-off distance, lower noise levels, affordability, better ground clearance, reduced tip erosion, increased climb rate, increased cruise speed, or smoother operation. This dedication to improvement and quality led to an aviation industry first in 2016 when Hartzell introduced the extended warranty on Top Prop conversion propellers that is now the longest warranty for propellers offered anywhere in the GA industry.
“As a pilot and aircraft owner myself, I know that cost is a big hurdle to the success of general aviation,” said current Hartzell President Joe Brown.
“We are doing our part to reduce costs while at the same time promoting safety through recommended periodic maintenance. This warranty extension is an expression of the confidence we have in our people and propellers. Superior quality and reliability is a reflection of the words we have lived by for 100 years: Built on Honor.”
Looking ahead to the next century of Hartzell, one can expect that the company will remain, today and every day, a powerful driver of innovation led by those with a passion for aviation, and Built on Honor.