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Hartzell Propeller grows from Wright Brothers tie to industry leadership

Aerospace companies with a colorful history are a dime a dozen. Aerospace companies with a tie to Orville Wright are something special.
Hartzell Propeller is the latter.

The company 's roots reach back to 1875, when John T. Hartzell founded a sawmill in Greenville, Ohio. The wood business took an upswing in 1917 when, amidst a growing airplane manufacturing industry, Hartzell's son, Robert, founded a wooden propeller blade business at his father's sawmill company, says Michael Disbrow, Hartzell senior vice president.

"The legend is that Orville Wright suggested the company start making wooden airplane blades," Disbrow says. "It had to do with a relationship with Orville Wright, who lived in Oakwood, two doors down (from Robert)."

While the fledging Hartzell Propeller never made blades directly for Orville Wright machines, the company did become an early supplier to the Dayton Wright Airplane Company, which purchased Wright's company when Orville left to pursue other interests.

Today, Hartzell seems worlds away from the early days of flight. Now headquartered in Piqua with 275 employees, Hartzell is a market leader in supplying both metal and lightweight composite blades for private and corporate aircraft.

Hartzell's website lists a fistful of firsts: the first composite blades in the 1940s; the first reversible blades, also in the '40s; the first full-feathering blades in the 1950s; the first practical turboprop blades in the 1960s.

In 1986, Hartzell manufactured the aluminum props that powered Burt Rutan's historic non-stop circumnavigation of the globe.

While Disbrow says the company was one of the pioneers in development of lightweight composite blades, "most of our props are still made from forged aluminum."

Customers include Hawker Beechcraft, Piper, Air Tractor and a number of others.

Source: Michael Disbrow, Hartzell Propeller
Writer: Gene Monteith

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