Harry Robertson, an aviation safety pioneer and the developer of crash-resistant aircraft fuel tanks, has died at age 87.
Robertson, who died Oct. 9, was an engineer and inventor who spent most of his career studying aviation accidents and identifying preventive measures.
He began work to develop a flexible, puncture-resistant aircraft fuel tank in the early 1960s as a researcher for Flight Safety Foundation. One of his early efforts — on a U.S. Army contract to develop denser fuels that would be less likely to ignite after a crash — failed, but a related project to shield fuel from potential sources of ignition was a success, ultimately adopted for use by U.S. military helicopters and credited with dramatically reducing the number of post-impact fires and their severity.
The invention was credited with saving the lives of thousands and the technology later was integrated into civilian helicopters, military ground vehicles and high-performance racecars.
Later, Robertson founded Robertson Fuel Systems to develop and produce crashworthy extended-range fuel systems. He was a research professor at the Arizona State University College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, where he co-founded the Crash Survival Investigators School. He also coauthored five editions of the U.S. Army Crash Survival Design Guide.
A graduate of Arizona State University, he served in the U.S. Air Force and in the Arizona Army Guard and Air National Guard. He was enshrined in 2011 in the National Aviation Hall of Fame.