2nd Lieutenant Armand Haugstad of Columbus, North Dakota was a navigator with the 389th Bomb Group based at Darwin, Australia during World War Two.
On August 17, 1943, B-24 bombers from the 389th Bomb Group flew the marathon mission to the Balikpapan oil refinery in Borneo. This refinery provided the Japanese with half their lubricating oil and 60 percent of their aviation fuel. This mission would take the bombers round trip of over 2600 miles and last more than 16 hours.
Haugstad was on the B-24 named PUG when they bombed the refinery and tankers anchored in harbor through a curtain of anti-aircraft fire thrown up by the Japanese. PUG was hit and a raging fire in the right-wing root was the result. The situation did not look good with 1300 miles back to base. The burning bomber could blow at any minute and preparations were made to bail out over open water, far from any possibility of rescue. Just before the pilot ordered the crew out of the plane, a miracle happened. 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, ended up getting a doctorate in physics and chemistry, had become lead scientist with Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio. Hanson was the inventor of the type of fuel bladder that would seal itself if punctured. On January 21st, 1941, Elmo filed on the patent for self-sealing tanks. These fuel tanks could self-seal even if punctured by large caliber rounds and saved countless airmen 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 be a math teacher and taught at Minot High School for many years. Haugstad passed away in 1997.
Elmo Hanson continued his work at Firestone, unfortunately passing away at the young age of 56 while developing the Firestone 500 tires. So noted was his work and patents for the company including the self-sealing tanks that the Harvey Firestone family financed all the further education for his two children.