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General aviation leader and innovator J. B. 'Doc' Hartranft diesGeneral aviation leader and innovator J. B. 'Doc' Hartranft dies

First president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots AssociationFirst president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association

Joseph B. "Doc" Hartranft, Jr., the first president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), died February 22 in Annapolis, Maryland. He was 86.

"Doc Hartranft was a true visionary and defender of general aviation," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "When he helped found AOPA in 1939, the military's concerns about impending world war threatened the freedom of civilian aviation. Hartranft's leadership not only preserved general aviation through that dark period, but also enlisted GA in the defense of the nation. Much of what general aviation is today is the result of Hartranft's leadership and innovation."

Hartranft's influence touched everything from the words pilots use to the markings on runways. He founded collegiate and international aviation organizations, and he was an innovator in association management.

Hartranft, AOPA member number 2, helped found the association in 1939 as a young college graduate. He would go on to become the association's first employee, AOPA president from 1952 to 1977, and chairman of the AOPA Board of Trustees from 1977 to 1985. He retired from the board in 1990 and was named emeritus board member in 1998.

Hartranft learned to fly at Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York, as a teenager. He eventually earned a commercial certificate with multiengine and instrument ratings, logging more than 17,000 hours while flying for more than 50 years.

He was a pioneer of airborne newsgathering by flying newsreel cameramen over his hometown of Philadelphia to earn money for college during the Great Depression.

In 1933, he founded the National Intercollegiate Flying Club (NIFC) while attending the University of Pennsylvania. Today it's the National Intercollegiate Flying Association (NIFA). He also founded the "Cloudcombers," the University of Pennsylvania's flying club.

In 1938, Hartranft invited Philadelphia lawyer and pilot Alfred L. Wolf to give a talk about aviation law at NIFC's spring symposium in Washington, D.C. Wolf had already met with other pilots in Philadelphia to consider forming a national organization to promote general aviation. The airlines, airline pilots, and the military all had powerful organizations to lobby Congress and the government, but none existed to represent the interests of "private" fliers.

Discussions between Hartranft and Wolf and four other visionary Philadelphia aviators continued, leading to the formation of AOPA in 1939. Hartranft was hired as executive secretary. For several years he was AOPA's only full-time employee.

As Hartranft began building what was to become the world's largest pilot organization, the world was exploding into war. It was clear to Hartranft and AOPA's founders that civilian aviation could be grounded by military security concerns.

AOPA set out to prove the value of civilian aircraft. In 1940, the association staged a demonstration on Long Island, New York, to show how general aviation could handle relief and evacuation of refugees.

Hartranft then formed the AOPA Air Guard (forerunner of the Civil Air Patrol), which trained pilots to make emergency medical flights and spot submarines operating in U.S. coastal waters, and prepared many pilots for military service.

Hartranft was called to military service following the attack on Pearl Harbor, but he still carried the banner of general aviation. As a U.S. Army Air Corps Reserve captain in Washington, he was secretary of the Interdepartmental Air Traffic Control Board and the War Aviation Committee to help settle any disputes between military and civilian operations. Hartranft would take unresolved disputes to President Franklin D. Roosevelt for final disposition. He thus helped preserve airspace for GA during the war. He was a lieutenant colonel at war's end.

Hartranft focused on airports early and often, starting with airport clean-up and painting projects. He proposed marking runways with magnetic headings, the system used today.

When pilots had difficulty obtaining affordable insurance, he worked with Lloyds of London in 1946 to reduce pilot personal accident and liability insurance some 20 to 40 percent.

Hartranft led AOPA's development of the basic VFR and IFR radio frequency plans for GA to alleviate congestion on VHF communications channels. He prepared the first pilot's manual on how to use the VOR electronic navigation system.

Hartranft helped originate the word "unicom" to describe the common communications frequency used by pilots at nontowered airports.

He formed the AOPA Foundation, which is today's Air Safety Foundation, promoting safe flying, a crucial element of AOPA's mandate. Today, ASF safety seminars and famous Pinch-Hitter® courses are offered from coast to coast.

Hartranft helped create public television's A.M. Weather program, which formerly aired every weekday morning on Public Broadcasting Service stations with a look at U.S. weather affecting aviation.

As AOPA had become the voice for general aviation in the United States, Hartranft realized that GA needed a voice at the international level as well. With GA representatives from Australia, Canada, the Philippines, and South Africa, he founded the International Council of Aircraft Owners and Pilots Associations (IAOPA) in 1962. IAOPA became the only accredited general aviation representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in 1964, a distinction still held today. Today aircraft owner and pilot associations of 56 countries are IAOPA members.

Hartranft also pioneered many of the modern association management techniques now taken for granted. A graduate of the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania, Hartranft recognized that a strong national association could not function on membership dues alone. He created many of the products and services that help generate revenue for the works of the association. Today, membership dues account for only a third of AOPA's $50 million annual budget.

Hartranft's noteworthy awards include:

  • Commendation for "Distinguished Service to Aviation" by Jimmy Doolittle in 1953 to observe the fiftieth anniversary of powered flight.
  • Award of Achievement, National Aviation Club, 1966.
  • Award of Commendation, National Intercollegiate Flying Association, 1969.
  • Honorary Life Membership, Royal Aero Club U.K., 1972.
  • Outstanding Contributions to Aviation, Aviation Council of Long Island, 1977.
  • Outstanding Contributions to Aviation, Alpha Eta Rho International Aviation Fraternity, 1978.
  • Honorary Doctorate Degree in Aviation Services, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, 1978.
  • Award of Commendation, Royal Aero Club of the Netherlands, 1979.
  • Elder Statesman of Aviation, National Aeronautic Association, 1986.
  • Charles Lindbergh Diploma, Federation Aeronautique Internationale, 1987.

Funeral services are pending.

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Topics: ADSB

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