Charles Rocheville

Charles Rocheville

Charles Rocheville

One of the great pleasures in writing aviation history in getting to meet some of the less-well known personalities who none the less had done so much for aviation, and who led interesting, fulfilled lives after they perhaps reached their peak in the industry.

One such individual was Charles Rocheville, whose life and aircraft I covered in articles in Wings and Airpower some decades ago. As a sailor in the U.S. Navy, .he began his career by modifying current  aircraft (including as Spad XIII and a Fokker D VII). He went on some epic Arctic adventures, and eventually got into the airplane business himself, being the chief designer for Emsco, and creator of the Zenith Albatross among others.

Rocheville was one of the many victims of the Great Depression. His aircraft were handsome, performed well, and the Emsco company always seemed to be on the edge of breaking through, but it, like so many others folded.

On one of his “in-between” jobs, he flew for an oil company mapping the potential oil fields of the Middle East. In the process he became interested in the ancient art of mummification, and conducted many experiments on the materials used in the process.

I interviewed him at his home in California in the process of writing the articles, and he had a great memory, and provided me with many photographs. But as proud as he was of his accomplishments, he was even prouder of an application of the knowledge he had learned studying the materials used by the Egyptians in preserving their leaders in what we refer to today as “mummies.”   He had discovered that some of the materials had great properties as lubricant, and that these lubricating properties were not adversely affected by extreme temperatures. He told me, in a very matter of fact way, but with evident pride that his lubricant was being used by NASA on its lunar vehicles.

I have to confess that I was skeptical. It just seemed a reach too far—yet when I checked into it, he was absolutely correct. So here was a man, a hero in my book, whose career spanned WW I to the space age—and who is still, sadly, not well known.

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