Herb Poitz : You may not know his name, but he changed the way we fly

I have been asked many times at air shows if I was the original developer of Aeroshell W oils.

I have been asked many times at air shows if I was the original developer of Aeroshell W oils.

I appreciate the honor, however I usually try to tell some version of the truth. Since I wasn’t even a teenager when Aeroshell Oil W was introduced in 1958, I usually tell people that I have developed some of the current products, like W 100 Plus and Anti-wear Anti-corrosion Aeroshell Oil W 15W-50, but that the original products were developed before my time.

So who developed the original Aeroshell W oils? The main person who led the effort was Herb Poitz. Now, lest you think this was just a normal job, I would like to give you a short history lesson.

In the mid-1950s, the airlines were flying piston-powered aircraft on straight mineral oil. Some of the oil companies had tested detergent oils with disastrous results ? mainly engine failures from pre-ignition caused by combustion chamber deposits built up from the metallic content of oil additives. The airlines and the military wanted and needed better oils, but what kind of oil, and who would try it?

Enter Herb Poitz with a new Ashless Dispersant oil. He faced numerous technical and political problems. First, he had to convince an airline to evaluate the oil and the FAA to approve the flight evaluations. Once the evaluations were concluded and the results were better than expected, every airline wanted the oil. Then the second ? and harder ? challenge faced Herb.

All of the airlines bought oil for their planes based on a military specification. Herb’s problem was that the only Milspec for aircraft was Mil-L-6082, which only covered straight mineral oils. Herb had to convince the military that a new spec was necessary, write the spec himself, then get it approved. That may sound simple but, believe me, it was not. The military did not want to write a new spec if there was only one product that could meet it and the competition did not want a product introduced that would more-or-less put them out of the market.

Herb also had to educate airline maintenance personnel about the need for two oils: straight mineral oil for break-in and for use in existing high-time engines and the W oil for the rest, and when to use which oil. Naturally enough, there also were a lot of people who didn’t like change or were loyal to other brands.

Once he converted the airlines over to W, Herb had to start on the general aviation industry, getting all of the necessary approvals and then educating the flying public on how and why to use it.

Herb succeeded because he had more people skills than anyone I have ever met. The first aviation seminar I attended with him was following the introduction of 100LL and the loss of 80/87. We entered a room full of very angry and upset pilots and FBO personnel. After an hour of sometimes heated discussion, during which Herb never lost his cool, we were in a room full of friends who understood why the change was necessary and, more important, that they could live with it.

Herb Poitz passed away on Dec. 27, 2007. I would like to extend my heartfelt sympathy to his family. I am very thankful for having known Herb. I learned a great deal from him.

In aviation, there are a lot of famous people, but aviation succeeded because of the efforts of the many more people like Herb, who quietly accomplished formidable tasks that made it all possible.

Thank you Herb, and all of the others like you, for an amazing job well done.

Ben Visser is an aviation fuels and lubricants expert who spent 33 years with Shell Oil. He has been a private pilot since 1985. You can contact him at Visser@GeneralAviationNews.com.

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