Issue 6, 2015. December-January


The Life and Work of Alexander Kartveli

Without a doubt, Alexander Kartveli is Georgia's most important export to America, and he deserves a permanent place in Georgia as a national hero.His story is finally being told in Tbilisi at the Georgian National Museum, where a dedicated exhibit that celebrates the life and work of Alexander Kartveli opened on November 17th. Rare material has been contributed by the Alexander Kartveli Association (, a not for profit Georgian entity founded by Richard Rubin, RamazBluashvili and Stephen Johnson. The Association has curated and discovered previously unseen images, documents and scientific papers on Kartveli's life that clearly document the basis for his advances in supersonic and space flight as they unfolded in the 20th century and into today.

Richard Rubin,
Founder of the Alexander Kartveli Association & Managing Director of Aviation Media LLC

Alexander Kartveli stands in front of his P47 with C. Hart Miller Director of Military Contracts at Republic and Major Russel Kellior, Army Contracts representative

A Georgian genius

Alexander Kartveli, born Alexander Kartvelishvili, (September 9, 1896 - June 20, 1974) was an influential aircraft engineer; pioneer in American aviation history; and an early technology innovator.Kartveliimmigrated to the United States and was credited with some of the most important breakthroughs in aviation design; he was prominent among a small cadre of aviation designers by virtue of seminal breakthroughs in general commercial and military aviation design.

While Kartveli is considered to be one of the most important aircraft designers in US history and the world, regrettably he is unknown to most Americans and Georgians.

Kartveli's own story asan emigre from Georgia was barely known to Americans during his life, as well. As the Hayward Daily Review (March 7, 1942) wrote "Russian Genius [who] Designed Our Best Plane" was misunderstood at best and perhaps, at worst, mistrusted by the American defense administration he served so faithfully in his career.

He was bornin Georgia in 1896, seven years before the Wright Brothers' first powered flight on the beaches of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Just a few years later, those early planes designed in an innocent time were soon forgotten as the world struggled to defeat the rise of Nazi Germany armed with Kartveli's important contributions to air design.

His personal journey paralleled a professional career made up of persistent design contributions whose impact and timing were critical to meeting the challenges of the world under Harry Truman and FDR, as well as early pioneers in US aviation industry such as Charles Lindbergh and well-known socialite figures such as Walt Disney and other Hollywood socialites.

Kartveli with unidentified P47 pilot, 1940-1947

Kartveliwas responsible for legendary aircraft like the P-35 (the first all-metal single-seat fighter), the P-47 Thunderbolt (a key asset that helped the United States win World War II), the XF-103, a high-speed concept bomber, the F-105 (used extensively in Vietnam), and the A-10 Thunderbolt II (also known as the 'Warthog'). Importantly Kartveli's contributions to hypersonic flight theory and design provided important stepping-stones for today's NASA space shuttle program.

The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt (Warthog) was designed by Kartveli and team in the 1960s and first deployed in 1972 - and exemplifies how Kartveli translated the need for a close air support fighter aircraft into the most potent close air support fighter aircraft ever designed.

The A-10 is the most heavily armed, and armored, tactical plane in history. The Warthog remains feared by enemies and revered by the US Air Force decades after Kartveli's death. Despite rapid innovation in aeronautical materials and designs since the 1970's, 320 A-10s remain in service as of 2015.

A Personal Journey

Leaving behind other family members, Kartveli and his mother escaped turmoil and oppression in Georgia to pursue a boyhood dream to design aircraft in the growing field of aviation- an industry that resembled the freewheeling days of the early Internet. From very early years Kartveli was interested in aeronautical engineering and showed strong passion and talent in aviation and aircraft design. However as with most young cadets, as World War I broke out, Kartveli was tasked with studying artillery in the military academy in St. Petersburg and he was sent to fight the Turks.

However, after Georgia announced its independence from Russia following the October 1917 revolution, the new government sent Kartveli to Paris to study aviation engineering.

In Paris, Kartveli worked for BlériotAéronautique (a leading French aviation design firm)and made several close professional friendships that were to serve him later in his career. The first such colleague was Armand Thiebolt. The other friend was an engineer named Edmond Chagniard. In the 1920s, both men were designing racing aircraft andcabin transports for the SocietéIndustriale des Mataux et du Bois -- the leading French national design shop. The three would go on todesign a monoplane that would set the world speed record of 266 miles/hour in 1924.

In 1927 Kartveli arrived in the United States by invitation of American entrepreneur and millionaire Charles Levine.Eventually all three - Kartveli, Thiebolt and Chagniard - would work for Levine together.

An F-84G Thunderstreak

Levine became one of the most influential US aviation capitalists of the 1920's, and it was his dream to build the world's first metal transatlantic plane, a massive undertaking from a number of perspectives. Metal was not used in airplanes of the day and insufficient engine power proved to be the project's undoing.

But the project helped launch Kartveli's career designing for the US military. General Benjamin D. Foulois of the Army Air Corps had heard about the project, known as "Uncle Sam", and about the threeyoung designers building it. He met with them, offered them extensions of their visas and invited them to work on his designs for the Army's air force. During their off hours the "Trio" initiated the design of an all-metal attack bomber for the army air corps without Levine knowing anything about it. When Levine did find out, he claimed the right to the design and initiated a lawsuit against the trio who immediately departed Levine's company.

Alexandre de Seversky and Republic Aviation

In 1931 Kartveli met Alexander de Seversky, also born and raised in Tbilisi, Georgia. The two men were to form an amazing partnership.

Kartveli started working at the Seversky Aircraft Corporation as a chief engineer. Along with Seversky, Kartveliembarked on an advanced all-metal, multi-place monoplane amphibian, the SEV-3. On September 15, 1935, flying at a speed just over 230 mph, Seversky set a world speed record for this piston-engine amphibious aircraft.

His career continued at Republic Aviation Corporation (the successor to Seversky's company), where he waschief engineer and was responsible for the design and production of many important military aircraft.

The P-47

The P-47 Thunderbolt on Kartveli's drawing board in 1940 (as a successor to Seversky's P-35 all metal fighter) is ranked as one of the three best fighters of World War II. The P-47 sported a massive fuselage, used the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 "Double Wasp" engine enhanced with a turbocharger, and was the heaviest single-engine fighter to fly in the war. The P-47 was the first all metal fighter to fly at 400 miles an hour and pound for pound, it was the world's fastest, highest-climbing single-engine fighter. The P-47s could also carry bombs, which turned the fighters into fighter-bombers with the P-47D "Juggernaut," the first large-scale production model.

Production of the P-47 ended in November 1945 as the US Air Force wound up its military success. However as World War II was in its final stages, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA the predecessor to NASA) inaugurated sophisticated studies of high-speed upper atmosphere flight that had significant ramifications for the development of human spaceflight.

An F105 with the full range of munitions display at the Republic Aviation Plant

Kartveli's important contributions to hypersonic flight and early advisory work to NACA formed the basis for designs for the NASA's space shuttle and orbital aircraft capable of returning to the earth. Kartveli's initial theory about the possibilities of supersonic and subsonic flight and collaboration with prominent engineers resulted in significant technological advances and eventually to the development of preliminary designs for aircraft that could reenter the earth's atmosphere such as the NASA's space shuttle. Kartveli went on to design several new important commercial aircraft but not all of them met with success and the company was left in precarious financial position.

The F-84 and supersonic designs

However the F-84 jet fighter-bomber returned Republic to profitability. The company built three main varieties of this plane to replace the P-47. The Thunderjet was a high-performance aircraft, and briefly set an American speed record, flying at 611 miles per hour. The last in the Thunderjet series, the F-84G, could deploy nuclear weapons and was the first fighter capable of in-flight refueling. Used by American forces in Korea, by NATO troops, and by some nonaligned nations, approximately 4,450 Thunderjets were built between 1947 and 1953.

At the same time that Republic was working on the F-84, Kartveli and his team were designing Republic's first swept-wing plane, a high-speed experimental interceptor designated the XF-91 Thunderceptor. Begun in 1946, it was America's first combat-type fighter to fly faster than the speed of sound. In December 1951, it became the first U.S. combat aircraft to go supersonic in level flight. The Thunderceptor never went into production but it led to further developments in advanced fighter technology.

An even more far-reaching prospect was in view at Republic Aviation under Kartveli's direction. Powered by experimental ramjet technology, theXF-103 was to fly at Mach 3.7, nearly 2,500 miles per hour (mph) with a sustained ceiling of 75,000 feet.

Kartveli set Mach 7, or 5,000 mph, as an achievable goal. He anticipated achieving this speed with another bomber design that was to cruise at 120,000 feet. Propulsion was to come from two turbojets and two ramjets, with this concept pressing the limits of subsonic combustion.This was one of the stepping-stone for orbital aircraft and the basis of the NASA space shuttle.

The F-105

In 1951, Republic began to develop a supersonic fighter-bomber to replace the F-84F. The F-105 Thunderchief, also nicknamed "Thud" (some say with affection and others say because the plane was too heavy), made its first flight on October 22, 1955, although the first production version, the F-105B, was not delivered until May 1958. This supersonic aircraft had an internal bomb bay, the first ever on a fighter aircraft, and was capable of deploying nuclear weapons. It was the heaviest and most complex fighter used by the Air Force to date.

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