Apollo 13 mission director, 3 others to enter Aviation Hall of fame

The steadfast mission control director under pressure as astronauts lives hung in the balance in the 1970 Apollo 13 mission, and a man dubbed the architect of American space flight are two of four inductees into the National Aviation Hall of Fame Class of 2015.

NAHF announced the inductees Tuesday on the eve of the 111th anniversary of the first-powered flight by Dayton aviation pioneers Wilbur and Orville Wright at Kitty Hawk, N.C., on Dec. 17, 1903.

Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert L. Cardenas, former NASA space flight director Eugene Kranz, the late Robert N. Hartzell, a propeller-making pioneer, and the late Abe Silverstein, “architect” of the NASA space program, were chosen among 200 nominees, said Ron Kaplan, National Aviation Hall of Fame pioneer.

“Collectively, they span the history of manned flight and individually each one stands as an icon in their own community of aviation,” Kaplan said.

The Hall of Fame, inside the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, will formally induct the aviation and space pioneers in an Oct. 2, 2015 ceremony at the museum.

* Cardenas, 95, of San Diego, Calif., was the pilot on the mother ship B-29 bomber on the record-breaking X-1 program, the first jet-powered aircraft to break the sound barrier in level flight on Oct. 14, 1947 over the California desert. Aviation buffs “know Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier but Cardenas was flying the four-engine B-29 on its test flights,” Kaplan said.

A World War II bomber pilot, Cardenas was chief pilot on the XB-49 flying wing test flights and a commanding officer of a F-105 Thunderchief unit in Southeast Asia and in the Air Force Special Operations Force. In his Air Force career, he was a test pilot at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and attended the Air Force Institute of Technology, according to his military biography.

* The late Robert N. Hartzell, who was born in Greenville, Ohio and grew up in Dayton, started a company that manufactured propellers for Liberty engines in World War I. Orville Wright encouraged Hartzell, the son of a woodworker, to build propellers, Kaplan said. The company had a stint manufacturing planes. It assembled both wood and metal propellers for World War II aircraft. In the post-war era, Hartzell Propeller, based in Piqua, developed lightweight and more controllable propellers, NAHF said.

Robert Hartzell died in 1968.

* Eugene “Gene” Kranz, 81, a Toledo native and former NASA director of mission operations who gained fame as the flight director of the troubled Apollo 13 mission that never landed on the moon after an explosion on the spacecraft, but returned three astronauts safely to Earth. He was a co-recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his role in the Apollo 13 mission, where he is perhaps best remembered for the phrase “failure is not an option.”

Kranz, who lives in Texas, was a former fighter pilot in Korea and flight test engineer in the Air Force. He participated in NASA space flight operations in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions. In the 1995 Academy Award-winning blockbuster film Apollo 13, Ed Harris was nominated for best supporting actor for his portrayal of Kranz.

* The late Abe Silverstein credited as the architect of NASA’s space flight program and the “Father of Apollo” on missions to the moon, NAHF said. Silverstein was an aerodynamicist and mechanical engineer who advanced the development of World War II planes and early supersonic jets. He was the first director of space flight programs at NASA. He retired at NASA’s Lewis Research Center in Cleveland in 1969. The Indiana native died in 2001.

“Ultimately, on his word, (President John) Kennedy made the speech we will go the moon before the end of the decade,” Kaplan said.

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