Haig-K HK-1


The Haig-K Aircraft Corporation was formed at Main Line Airport (formerly Paoli Airport) in Malvern, Pennsylvania, by Haig Kurkjian, a flight test engineer who worked for Kellett in developing the XR-8 and later for Piasecki in 1945. In 1947 he began teaching at the Quaker City School of Aeronautics, Philadelphia, where he began designing the HK-1. In 1952 the Main Line Airport became vacant after being sold to Monroe Coal Mining Company (Bethlehem Steel) and the departure of Demorr Aeronautical (new regulations forbade fixed-wing takeoffs and landings and prompted the installation of barbed-wire fences that transformed the runways into cattle pastures), providing an opportunity for Haig Kurkjian's new company to set up shop. Five T-hangars were adapted into machine shops and the 6,000sq-ft main hangar for repairs and maintenance, and a section for a wind tunnel. An old farmhouse on the land was used for engineering offices and for living accommodations (Kurkjian's family lived upstairs after George Hall, secretary and engineer for the company, moved into another house in 1960). There was also an old barn behind one of the hangars, which was used mostly for storage - it was damaged during Hurricane Hazel in 1954 and was soon repaired and reinforced. Interestingly, the Wilford WRK Gyroplane was in another barn nearby, which managed to survive.

The HK-1 prototype's first flight suffered from vibration issues, prompting Kurkjian's team to design a new rotor and drive system. In 1957, after nine years of development, it finally flew with a new multi-V belt drive for both main and tail rotors, successfully eliminating the previous vibration problems. It was powered by a Continental C85 right in front of the pilot position. Generally it performed well, but Haig-K lacked funding for FAA certification.

As Arthur Young (founder of Bell Helicopters) owned a farm nearby, him and Haig Kurkjian became friends and professional affiliates. This led to Haig-K developing a variable diameter rotor (VDR) system that found use on Bell helicopters, and later the facility was given FAA approval to serve as a repair station for the Bell Model 47 from 1963 to 1973 (some were even manufactured there).

Atlas Chemical Industries, Inc. of Wilmington, Delaware, bought Bethlehem Steel's Chester Valley properties in June of 1964, which included the Main Line Airport serving as the Haig-K facility, but Haig-K continued operating. There was lots of history between then and 1977, 25 years successfully operating even after the land changed ownership some more times. Three of the T-hangars were lost to fires, but not even this stopped them from continuing business. It was in the year of 1977, though, that marked the end for the company: sections of the facility were subleased to generate more revenue, and a portion of the main hangar was occupied by a small auto body shop. Sparks from an acetylene torch set fire to the hangar and completely destroyed it, plus the equipment and even the HK-1 prototype.

This was the final straw after the previous losses to the facility, in which Haig-K officially abandoned what was left of Main Line Airport in 1978. The land was soon taken over by the Great Valley Corporate Center, the former airport location being used by Shared Medical Systems Corporation (SMS), later bought by Siemens AG.

Rei Lee Evans