Alexander KartveliBy Divan MullerAlexander Kartveli, originally Kartvelishvili, was born on 9 September 1896 in Tblisi, Georgia, then part of the Russian Empire. He served in World War I as an artillerist, but was sent home having been wounded in the leg. Kartveli later moved to France to study artillery, but instead, he studied engineering and graduated from an aviation school in Paris in 1922. Whilst studying, he supported himself by performing as a circus trapeze artist and by teaching mathematics, but he soon found employment as a test-pilot, before being employed by Louis Blériot as an aircraft designer. A few years later, Kartveli was employed by Charles Levin, an American who gained fame for becoming the world’s first transatlantic passenger in 1927. Levin helped Kartveli immigrate to the USA.
In 1931, Kartveli was employed by fellow Georgian Alexander de Seversky, to work at the Seversky Aircraft Corporation in New York. Soon, Kartveli designed his most important aircraft up to that point, the Seversky P-35. Although it appeared somewhat obsolescent when compared with contemporary European fighters, such as Britain’s Spitfire and Germany’s Bf-109, it was the first American fighter to have an enclosed cockpit, retractable landing gear and feature all-metal construction. Almost 200 examples were built. In 1939, the Seversky Aircraft Corporation was bought out by its shareholders and its name was changed to Republic Aviation. Meanwhile, Kartveli continued to work on a development of the P-35. His new aircraft, the P-43, was considerably more capable, especially as a high-altitude fighter. In 1941, Kartveli’s most famous aircraft took to the skies. The P-47 Thunderbolt, as it was named, was arguably one of the best fighters and ground attack aircraft of World War II. More than 15 500 examples were built from 1941 to 1945. In 1944, Kartveli began work on a jet fighter, the F-84 Thunderjet. This aircraft was also a commercial success, with more than 7 500 examples built. The wept-wing development of the Thunderjet, the Thunderstreak, entered service in 1954. Also during the 1950s, Kartveli led a design team to develop the F-105 Thunderchief, which was used extensively during the Vietnam War. Kartveli’s last project was the A-10 Thunderbolt II, arguably the most capable close air support aircraft ever built. Kartveli lived to see the aircraft fly, but sadly, not long enough to see it reach its full potential. He died on 20 June 1974, at the age of 77.