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Self-sealing gas tanks saved navigator’s life

Dakota Datebook

2nd Lt. Armand Haugstad of Columbus, North Dakota, was a navigator with the 389th Bomb Group based at Darwin, Australia, during World War II.

On Aug. 17, 1943, B-24 bombers from the group flew a marathon mission to an oil refinery in Borneo. This refinery provided the Japanese with half their lubricating oil and 60 percent of their aviation fuel. The mission would take the bombers over 2,600 miles round trip and last more than 16 hours.

Haugstad was on the B-24 named Pug when they bombed the refinery and the tankers anchored in harbor. They flew through a curtain of anti-aircraft fire thrown up by the Japanese. Haugstad’s aircraft was hit, causing a raging fire in the right-wing. The situation did not look good as they faced a 1,300- mile trip back to base. The burning bomber could blow up at any minute. Preparations were made to bail out over open water, far from any possible rescue.

Just before the pilot ordered the crew out of the plane, the fire decreased and finally went out. Inspection upon landing showed the plane was saved by its self-sealing gas tank. Little did Armand know that he owed his life to his one-time neighbor, Elmo Hanson, of Wildrose, North Dakota.

Elmo, born in 1900, had earned a doctorate in physics and chemistry, becoming lead scientist with Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio. Hanson was the inventor of a fuel bladder that would seal itself if punctured. On this date in 1941, Elmo had filed a patent application for his invention that made self-sealing fuel tanks possible. They could self-seal even if punctured by large caliber rounds, an invention that saved countless airmen lives over the course of the war. Japanese planes did not have the luxury of self-sealing tanks and were called flaming coffins by their crews.

Armand Haugstad survived the war, married and raised a family. He went on to become a math teacher at Minot High School. Haugstad passed away in 1997.

Elmo Hanson continued his work at Firestone, working to develop the Firestone 500 radial tire, but he passed away at the young age of 56. His work was so noted at Firestone, that the Harvey Firestone family financed the higher education for Elmo’s two children.

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