The History of Bell Helicopter: 1935 - 1949

1935

  • Lawrence D. Bell founds Bell Aircraft Corporation, with 56 employees, at 2050 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo, NY.

1936

  • Bell Aircraft Corporation is awarded a contract to build the XFM-1 Airacuda, the first military aircraft produced by the company.

1937

  • First flight of the Bell XFM-1 Airacuda occurs.

1938

  • First flight of the Bell XP-39, the experimental version of the P-39 Airacobra, occurs. It was designed as an extension of the traditionalpursuit fighter.
  • Bell Aircraft Corporation receives a contract for 13 Airacudas, making the twin-engine fighters designed to oppose attacking bombers,the first military aircraft produced by the company.
  • The U.S. Navy awards a contract to Bell Aircraft Corporation for the XFL Airabonita. Based on the P-39 Airacobra, the XFL Airabonita was designed to land on early aircraft carriers.

1939

  • Bell Aircraft Corporation receives its first order for 80 P-39C Airacobras, originally designated as XP-39. Only 20 of the C version were produced; the remaining 60 were produced as the D version that had self-sealing fuel tanks, armor and enhanced armament.
  • The U.S. Army Air Forces awards a contract for 13 Airacobras.


1940

  • First flight of the Airabonita, an experimental shipboard intercepter aircraft developed for the U.S. Navy, occurs.
  • Bell Aircraft Corporation delivers the first production P-39 Airacobras.

1941

  • A contract is awarded for 2,000 Airacobras as a result of World War II, but only 13 are produced.
  • Bell Aircraft Corporation secures a contract for three XP-59s, America’s first jet fighter.
  • Arthur Young, an American inventor, brings his helicopter model to Bell Aircraft Corporation for a demonstration to Larry Bell.
  • Bell Aircraft Corporation begins development work on its first helicopter, the Bell Model 30.
  • Bell Aircraft Corporation is one of four major suppliers selected to build the B-29 Bombers. More than 28,000 people build 668 bombers at the Marietta, GA, plant over the course of World War II.

1942

  • In June of 1942, Bell Aircraft Corporation leases an old Chrysler dealership and garage in Gardenville, NY, 10 miles from Bell Aircraft Corporation’s Buffalo facility. There are 15 employees consisting of engineers, body men, tool and pattern makers, flight mechanics and one welder.
  • Six months after the group’s arrival at Gardenville, the Bell Model 30 is wheeled, or as Bart Kelley described it, “shoved out the garage door.” The ceremony is held on a cold winter day in December 1942. A bottle of champagne is broken on the fuselage and aircraft number 1, “Genevieve,” is christened.
  • First flight of the XP-59 jet airplane occurs.
  • The first non-stop, cross-country flight by a fighter airplane, the Airacobra, occurs from March Field, CA, to Washington, D.C.
  • Exactly one year after Pearl Harbor is attacked, the first flight of XP-63 occurs.

1943

  • The Bell Model 30 makes its first formal flight at Gardenville, NY.
  • After the first Bell Model 30 crashes, it is rebuilt with modified landing gear and tail rotor, becoming the Bell Model 30-1A.
  • Following construction in the new Bell Aircraft facility in Marietta, GA, the first Boeing B-29 rolls off the assembly line.

1944

  • Aviation history is made when the Bell Model 30 helicopter is flown inside the 65th Regiment Armory in Buffalo, NY, marking the first-ever U.S. indoor helicopter flight.
  • The Bell P-59 Airacomet, America’s first jet fighter, is publicly announced.
  • First flight of the all-plywood Bell XP-77 fighter plane occurs at Muroc, CA.
  • Marking a major milestone, the 10,000th Bell Aircraft Corporation fighter rolls off the assembly line.
  • The Bell Model 30 helicopter is flown at the Buffalo Civic Stadium in front of 40,000 people.

1945

  • Pilot Floyd Carlson flies Dr. Thomas C. Marriott to injured pilot, Jack Woolams, in a Bell Model 30. Woolams had become snowbound in a western NY farmhouse after bailing out of a P-59, America’s first jet fighter. This is the first time a helicopter is used for a medical emergency mission.
  • Floyd Carlson performs the first helicopter rescue in the Bell Model 30. Two ice fishermen, Arthur Johnson and Wally Gillson, are rescued one at a time on Lake Erie. Carlson receives the Treasury Department Silver Medal for this daring feat.
  • The first Bell Model YR-13s enter production and the U.S. Army Air Force procures 28 Bell Model 46As for evaluation. The YR-13 is powered by a 175 hp (130 kW) Franklin O-335-1 piston engine. The U.S. Navy evaluates 10 of the aircraft as trainers.
  • Larry Bell asks the main engineering department to develop a helicopter much larger than the Bell Model 47. The Bell Model 42 is a streamlined, all-metal helicopter capable of carrying five people, with access via two car-like doors. Faced with unique challenges, Larry Bell decides to transfer the responsibility of the Model 42 development to the Gardenville team. After much work and re-design, Arthur Young and Bartram “Bart” Kelley release the prototype. The first flight of Bell Model 42 takes place in September 1945 with pilots Floyd Carlson and Joe Mashman at the controls.
  • A Bell Model 49 single-seat prototype with a coaxial rotor is constructed and flown to evaluate the feasibility of having two counter-rotating rotors on a common shaft. The configuration proves to allow for a much more precise hover than tailrotor helicopters. Arthur Young was distressed upon learning that, after logging ten flights and encountering engine damage, the prototype had been unceremoniously taken away to be scrapped versus being kept to study.

1946

  • The Bell Model 47B is granted the world’s first commercial helicopter license.
  • With 75 hours logged, the first Bell Model 47 crashes and is damaged beyond repair. Registration is transferred to serial number 11 on May 15.
  • Bell Aircraft Corporation receives Helicopter Type Certificate number 1 for its Bell Model 47. This is the first certificate of its type to be granted by the Civil Aeronautics Authority. Many variants of the Bell Model 47 remain in continuous production until 1974.
  • Bell Aircraft chief test pilot, Jack Woolams, becomes the first person to fly the XS-1, “Experimental, Supersonic” rocket plane. He made a glide-flight over Pinecastle Army Airfield, FL.
  • Delivery of the first production line Bell Model YH-13 to the U.S. Army takes place.
  • Bell Aircraft Corporation establishes the first flight training school for commercial helicopter pilots.
  • First flight of the Bell Model 48 R-12/H-12 occurs.
  • The U.S. Army Air Force places an order for two Bell Model 48 prototypes, designated the XR-12-BE, representing the Army’s first helicopter procurement from Bell Aircraft Corporation. The XR-12’s missions are to include personnel evacuation, cargo transport, observation, liaison and general cooperation with ground forces. Though the USAAF orders 34 XR-12s, none are ever built and the contract is cancelled in 1947.

1947

  • The first two Bell Model YH-13As built for the U.S. Army Air Force leave Bell Aircraft Corporation’s Wheatfield, NY, plant for Alaska in a Fairchild C-82.
  • On October 14th, U.S. Air Force Capt. Charles “Chuck” Yeager, reached Mach 1.06 (700 mph) at an altitude of 43,000 feet in the Bell XS-1, aircraft number 1 (later designated as the Bell X-1). This milestone was achieved on the 50th flight of the XS-1.
  • The inauguration ceremony of the first helicopter airmail service, which includes experimental flights by the Bell Aircraft B-47, occurs in the New York City area. Over 100,000 letters are carried by the helicopter service on the first day of operation alone.
  • Larry Bell, Chuck Yeager and engineer John Stack win the Collier Award for their pioneering design of the Bell X-1 and being the first to break the sound barrier.

1948

  • The U.S. Air Force announces a four-seat utility helicopter, designated Bell Model XH-15, is being developed by Bell Aircraft Corporation.
  • First flight of the Bell Model 54, as H-15/R-15, occurs. The Model 54 is a conventional four-seat helicopter with a wheeled, fixed-tricycle landing gear, and is powered by a single 275 hp Continental XO-470-5 piston engine, located in the rear cabin, which drives a single two-bladed rotor.

1949

  • The Bell Model 47 sets an altitude record of 18,550 feet and a speed record of 133.9 mph.
  • Piloted by U.S. Air Force Capt. Chuck Yeager, the Bell X-1 number 1, “Glamorous Glennis,” successfully completes a ground takeoff from Muroc Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base, CA.
  • Capable of carrying three passengers or a 500-lb. payload, the Bell Model 47D-1 utility helicopter is announced.