William R. Bertelsen was a pioneer in the research and development of Air Cushion Vehicles (ACVs). Born in Moline, Illinois, on May 20, 1920, Bertelsen, initially studied electrical engineering but later pursued medical science studies. He attended the Indiana Institute of Technology, the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Illinois College of Medicine. Bertelsen earned his M.D. from the University of Illinois College of Medicine in 1947, while also serving in the United States Navy Reserve.
It was Bertelsen's career as a country doctor that primarily drove him to design and experiment with a variety of ACVs. His need for a way to reach rural patients in all forms of inclement weather quickly evolved into a life-long passion for developing alternative forms of transportation. Persisting through periods of encouragement and rejection alike, Bertelsen designed a number of ACVs and Ground Effect Machines (GEMs), including: Aeromobiles 35-1, 35-2, 72, 200-1, 200-2, 250-1; Arcopter GEM-1, GEM-2, GEM-3; and a vertical take-off and landing aircraft (VTOL). He also developed other types of air cushion applications, such as the Aeroplow, the Aeroduct System of Mass Transportation, and the Air Track Air Cushion Crawler. Additionally, Bertelsen wrote scientific papers, appeared in publications, and participated professionally in a number of domestic and international air cushion vehicles organizations, such as the U.S. Hovercraft Society, the British Hovercraft Society, and the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute.
Besides his busy career as a physician and inventor, Bertelsen was also a husband and father of four children. Experiments and tests were often a family affair, as he liked to involve family and neighbors whenever practicable. Bertelsen never truly retired, working for the Metro MRI Center in Moline, Illinois, until March 2009. His final blog posts, only months before his death on July 16, 2009, still encouraged innovation and new ways of thinking about transportation. Several of Bertelsen's vehicles are in the collections of the National Air and Space Museum.