Hartwig Baier, 73, died early last month unexpectedly of a heart attack while on vacation in the Bahamas, depriving the button-down world of business aviation of one of its more colorful and highly regarded characters.
Bornin the German-speaking part of the Czech Republic, the Sudetenland, to Germanparents, Baier grew up in southern Germany after being forced to leave the Czechrepublic along with all other German speakers when he was four. After a posting with the Luftwaffe to El Paso, Texas, he always harbored dreams of moving to the U.S. and finally he settled in Wichita with his wife after travelling from Germany on a Constellation with $150 in their pockets.
After being laid off from his post as an engineer at Lear Jet, Baier took his engineering skills to Cessna but then decided to try his luck selling cars and worked at Wichita BMW to pay for his pilot training. While there, he had the opportunity to try to sell a car to Cessna Citation marketing leader Jim Taylor but lost the sale to Mercedes. He was so incensed he drove to Taylor’s house to ask why.
Taylor invited him in, and by the end of theirdiscussion they had struck a deal: if Baier would drive the mock-up truck of the original Citation 500 while the aircraft was being built, Taylor would make him a demo pilot on the aircraft. Baier drove the mock-up all over Europe, North America and Mexico. True to his word, Taylor gave him the job of demo pilot, based in Germany, from where he flew all over theworld–no easy feat given the limited range of the aircraft. He flew with guys like Jim Markel, Roger McMullin, Jake Cartwright and Duncan Higgins.
In 1977 Taylor took Baier with him to the new Canadair Challenger program, where he again drove the mock-up truck andbecame a demo pilot once the aircraft was built. He stayed with Canadair for five years. After a brief stint at Mitsubishi Aircraft as the sales director for Africa, Europe and the Middle East, Baier started his own aircraft brokerage firm, International Aviation Consultants, where he worked as an independent aircraft broker for the past 25 years.
Baier’s son, Mark, remembers that life for his father was one great adventure. Hewas on the leading edge of selling the Citation in the early years of the private jet industry, and was still living that adventure in his aircraft brokerage years when a perilous incident in the Democratic Republic of Congo happened. “We were setting up a freight operation in Uganda, helping an old friend for whom we had managed a Hawker in Portugal,” recalls Mark. “After a routine flight from Uganda to Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo, my father and the crew of the aircraft were staying at the Hilton when Rwandan-backed rebels began shelling the city. Hewas holed up in the basement with the crew for a week, getting messages out viatheRed Cross The rebels came into thehotel and took some westerners away, but luckily neither him nor the crew. During a lull in the fighting, he and thecrew made a run forthe airport, hiding the manifest since the aircraft had come from Uganda, at the time the enemy of the Rwandan rebels. They were inspected in one last close call, but finally took off and made it back to Entebbe, Uganda.”
Baier was famous for using language as colorful as the life he led, but the Congo episode scared him straight in that regard and he was never heard to swear again.
Even after he officially “retired,” Baier continued to travel the world, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro at age 68 and scuba diving in Belize into his seventies.
“There is a lot more color,” remembers Mark, “like my mother following him through small towns in Kansasin our Ford LTD with both of us kids while he was glider flying during his pilottraining. He saw pretty much all of the world, staying with people like the Shah of Iran while trying to sell him an aircraft, and introducing his U.S. colleagues todrink and crazy foodall over the world.”
It is anticipated a memorial acknowledgement to Baier will be made at the EBACE event in Geneva next month.