The surname Kartveli is not as well known to general public as Boeing, McDonnell, Douglas, or Lockheed. That is understandable, as no aircraft manufacturing company bears Alexander Kartveli’s name. And yet, this man made an immense contribution to the development of aviation in the US and worldwide. In particular, he oversaw the creation of such hugely successful military aircraft as P-47 Thunderbolt, A-10 Thunderbolt II, F-105 Thunderchief, and F-84 Thunderjet.
Leaving the homeland
Kartveli was born in 1896 in Tiflis, currently Tbilisi, the capital of independent Georgia. At the time it was a part of the Russian Empire. Kartveli studied at Saint-Petersburg, then fought in the WWI as a Russian army artillery officer. In 1919 Kartveli was sent by a short-lived independent Georgian government to study aeronautics in France.
When the Bolsheviks seized power in Georgia, Kartveli chose to stay in Paris. Those were hard years. To earn his living and to pay for college, Kartveli took up all sorts of jobs, including math teacher and trapeze performer. Upon graduation in 1922, he joined Blériot Aéronautique, an airplane company founded by Louis Blériot. There he gained some early fame designing record-breaking aircraft. Kartveli also mastered piloting and personally tested planes. In one such flight he suffered a severe accident, damaging his spine.
New home in the US
In 1927 Kartveli moved to the US to work for aviation entrepreneur Charles Levine. In the following years he was employed by Fokker American Company. In 1931 Kartveli became a chief engineer at the company of Alexander de Seversky, also an aviator, émigré, and native of Tiflis. Together they built the P-35, a ground-breaking all-metal fighter aircraft, which set a number of records. Throughout the following decades Kartveli toiled for this company, known successively as the Seversky Aircraft Company, the Republic Aircraft Corporation, and the Fairchild Republic.
WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and beyond
Kartveli’s greatest contribution to the Allied war effort during the WWII was the P-47 Thunderbolt, one of the most important American fighter aircraft. In the following decades he created another two successful fighters, the F-84 Thunderjet, which saw extensive combat use in Korea, and the F-105 Thunderchief, described by the New York Times at the time as “a supersonic mainstay of tactical units in Vietnam.” At the dusk of his career and life Kartveli oversaw the creation of Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II. This attack aircraft first flew in 1972 and remains in the USAF service to this day.
Contributing to space exploration
Kartveli also applied his talents as an advisor to the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, the predecessor of NASA, and contributed to NASA’s space shuttle and orbital aircraft designs.
Kartveli died in New York on July 20, 1974, at the age of 77.