United States of America
S. Harry Robertson, Safety Pioneer
Robertson invented a survivable fuel system known as the “Robbie Tank” that is self-sealed against ballistic threats of various calibers. He was the founder of Robertson Fuel Systems, a HEICO company, which produces fuel systems that are today in service with multiple federal agencies and departments, including all branches of the US Department of Defense. For the past 50 years, he has been a significant figure in aviation and is recognized as “The Father of the Crashworthy Fuel System.”
“Harry Robertson’s impactful work on creating crash survivable fuel systems for the rotorcraft industry and military forces has saved over 9,000 lives and continues strong for over 43 years,” said Newman Shufflebarger, president of Robertson Fuel Systems, in a statement. “Everyone at Robertson is proud to continue Harry’s legacy of saving lives and his absence is a true loss.”
His pioneering work also essentially eliminated post-crash fire injuries in Indy cars and other racing.
Robertson was born on Oct 2, 1934 in Phoenix, Arizona. As a teen, he won national awards in model airplane flying and automobile drag racing. He built the cars, drove them and researched fuel improvements. In 1956, he earned a BS in Business Administration and Mechanical Technology from Arizona State University. He then entered the US Air Force and flew the Boeing B-47 Stratojet bomber. He also began his work in aviation safety including accident investigation.
After his active duty tour ended in 1960, he served as a pilot in the Arizona Air National Guard (Phoenix) flying the Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter, and then later flew in the Army National Guard (Papago). He was a military pilot until 1974. He was also an active civilian pilot.
Robertson received numerous accolades and recognition for his life-saving work. His awards and honors include the Living Legends of Aviation’s Ken Ricci Lifetime Aviation Entrepreneur Award, and he is an Inductee into multiple aviation halls of fame, including those of the San Diego Air & Space Museum, National Aviation, US Army Aviation and OX5 Aviation Pioneers.
He served on Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Board of Trustees for over 20 years, was given an honorary PhD in 1972, and was honored as a Trustee Emeritus upon leaving the board. Through the years, he was also a member of numerous scientific and professional organizations including the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), HAI, International Society of Air Safety Investigators (ISASI), Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE), and SAE International. He was a VFS Lifetime Member, Gold Circle Club Member and Emeritus Member, having joined the Society in 1970; he was also a past VFS Forum technical paper author.
According to his obituary, “Harry created a huge body of knowledge that makes the world a better, safer place. He used the knowledge to do important things. Later he taught and shared knowledge and the thought processes and methodologies that are used to develop knowledge. He handed down resources for others to succeed. To sum him up in one sentence, ‘He cared.’”
Dr. Samuel "Harry" Robertson, a pioneer in crash survivable fuel systems, died on October 9, 2021, at the age of 87.
Society Update: In Memoriam, Vertiflite January/February 2022