By Richard S. Tipton
In Search of a Challenge
On March 8, 1946, the Bell Model 47 was awarded the first commercial helicopter license. What were the events that led to this monumental achievement in aviation history? Arthur Young, the inventor, reminisced about these early days while he was interviewed at his Institute for the Study of Consciousness in Berkeley, Ca. Also in attendance was Bartram Kelley who retired as senior vice president-Engineering in 1974. Kelley, a Bell consultant, began his distinguished career as an apprentice to Young and worked with him on the Model 30 program.
In 1928, a brilliant 23-year-old inventor named Arthur M. Young was seeking a challenge—some project that appealed to his competitive nature and would take time to develop. To evaluate ideas he had for inventions, Young made periodic visits to the Patent Office in Washington. It was a book by Anton Flettner, however, that stimulated his interest in the helicopter.
“Flettner had invented a ship that had crossed the Atlantic in 1927 by means of rotary drums,” Young explained. “This was about the time of Lindbergh and I was very impressed. What caught my attention was a large rendering of a windmill with propellers on the tips which was displayed in the book. When the wind turned the big windmill, the small propellers rotated at high speed with smaller gears picking up the power. I felt that Flettner’s idea could be applied to aircraft.”
Having no knowledge of helicopters, Young’s initial method was to visit public libraries in larger cities and read everything he could find on the subject.
“There wasn’t much information on helicopters before 1900,” Young pointed out, “because until the arrival of the automobile, engines hadn’t been built that were powerful enough to meet the requirements of vertical flight. l also discovered that there were more attempts to make helicopters than airplanes. But in 1928 there were still no successful rotary wing machines.”
Young, however, finally ran across a book about helicopters—Le Vol Vertical—which he described as a “pretty good covering text.”
“In these early days when you announced you were working on a helicopter,” said Bart Kelley, “you were considered eccentric. Arthur was not only a young man with independent means, but he had the courage and persistence to devote his energies to what was thought of as a crazy invention.”
The inventor’s next step was to set up a small aeronautical laboratory in a barn on the family estate in Radnor, Pa. where he began experimenting with small models.
Parts for his first helicopter model came from a toy store and consisted of rubber bands, carved wooden propellers and balsa wood strips. The first flight of the copter, which was six feet in diameter, lasted some 10 seconds. It was a beginning.
For the next several years, Young experimented on a variety of models, powered by everything from rubber bands to electric motors.
“There were so many crashes that Arthur had to learn mass production of rotor blades,” recalled Kelley, “so he taught a neighboring farm boy how to make them. “
In 1937, Young developed a larger model, powered by a 20-horsepower outboard motor. It involved complicated gearing which went up through the hub, out through the blades—turned a corner and spun the little propellers on each blade.
“I used this model to explore stress problems and it blew up on me three times before I got it to hold together,” Young said. “This model was the wrong type and I had to throw the whole thing out, but the experience gained in calculating stress and building parts proved invaluable.”
“I returned to making smaller models and began to concentrate on stability.” Young observed. “This meant I had to have flights and have wrecks.”
“Many earlier helicopters had received backing only to crash on their trial run. The backers then backed out and the project collapsed. I felt you had to have the crackups before the initial flight, because these crackups were teaching you something.”
He began to make progress. If the model had a wreck he could rebuild it in a day and move quickly ahead—experimenting with different rotor configurations.
“My major problem was that when the small helicopter model I was working with took off, it would start to tip a little—dash off to one side and then dash back again. After several swings the model tipped over.
His first thought was to install a pendulum which would sense gravity. But tests showed that the pendulum didn’t know the difference between acceleration and gravity.
“After a series of unsuccessful flights I decided to try a stabilizer bar, ” Young said. “The bar was linked directly to the rotor so the rotor plane was controlled independently of the mast.
“With the addition of this device, the model performed remarkably, showing great stability. In a few days I was flying the helicopter in the barn. I could even hover it motionless.”
The problem which had plagued Young had finally been solved.
Growing helicopters at Gardenville
After a decade of research, many failures and the big breakthrough with the invention of the stabilizer bar, Young was now ready to perfect a model that would appeal to a manufacturer and result in the production of full scale helicopters.
There was one drawback. Although the stabilizer bar provided smooth model flights, there were no remote controls for demonstration purposes.
“Arthur solved this problem by replacing the bar with a flywheel positioned on top of the mast,” Bart Kelley explained. “The rapidly turning flywheel tilted the rotor as the bar had previously done, and the flywheel could be tilted by the operator on the ground by means of solenoids or electromagnets. This remote control system enabled him to maneuver the model around the old barn’s interior and even fly it out the door and back.”
Young’s first attempts at interesting aircraft companies in his machine met with little enthusiasm until a friend, a Dr. John Sharp, visited Bell’s plant.
“Dr. Sharp’s avocation was making complicated gears,” said Young, “and while he was talking over his project with an engineer he mentioned that there was this character who had a helicopter model that would go out the barn door and return under remote control.”
This chance remark led to an appointment for a demonstration and Young and his flying model arrived at the Bell Aircraft Company in Buffalo, N.Y. on the morning of September 3, 1941.
“The flight was made before a group of engineers in a small area of the factory which was brimming with Airacobra pursuit planes.” Young remarked. “After the demonstration, I showed my film, “Principles of Stability”. It traced the various rotors I’d used in my flight tests. The ending concentrated on my present remote control model.
“Then came my introduction to Larry Bell. I took a fancy to him right away. Larry was a marvelous person with a great sense of humor and he always knew what was going on.
“One day, I remember, he was walking me through the plant and some Army visitors were coming our way. He took me by the arm and said, Arthur, I want you to meet some members of the opposite sex. “
Larry Bell and the inventor reached an agreement and on November 24, 1941 Young and his assistant, Bart Kelley, arrived at the plant to supervise the initial building of two prototypes that were called for in the terms of the contract.
“I’ve known Arthur since I was seven years old,” Kelley said. “When I was serving as his apprentice in 1931, he was measuring the thrust of the propellers he had mounted at the tips of the blades of his helicopter model.”
Prior to his working reunion with Young in 1941, Kelley had picked up a B.A. and M.A. in physics from Harvard and had devoted six years of teaching mathematics in Massachusetts’ preparatory schools.
“When I arrived at Bell,” Young continued, “I thought there would be engineers and experts on many subjects—that we’d immediately start building a full scale helicopter after I told them how big it would be. But nothing happened. They were all too busy with war contracts following December 7.
“I waited. There would be conferences from time to time, but they didn’t amount to anything. Then one day a carpenter came in our office and started sawing the walls down. I asked him, ‘what are you doing?’ In a tone that implied I was a ninny, he said they were going to enlarge the place—put in 24 drafting boards so we could make the helicopter.
“I didn’t want to make drawings. Drawings, which were the normal procedures for airplanes, wouldn’t work for the complex and untried mechanism of the helicopter. Drawings would come later after we built the prototype
“Then I discovered something interesting as I was going over the budget with the engineer who had been assigned to us. It specified that $250,000 was to make drawings for the helicopters—not to build them as stated in the contract.”
“I must have been divinely inspired, because I went over to the head of manufacturing and explained the predicament. He spoke my language and said o.k., he’d sign a budget to make two helicopters provided that the engineering drafting department had nothing to do with it.
“Now that I had the budget problem out of the way, I began to think—how do you build a helicopter? It’s a horrendous thing —like going to a department store an asking for parts for a space vehicle or something. They may have a lot of items but not the ones we needed.
“I determined that in order to have more room to build and fly the machine, it was essential that we have our own plant. I wrote a memo on the subject and received no response. Subsequently I learned the operating funding was being withheld. The reason, it seems, was that Larry Bel was concerned about how safely a helicopter could land in the event of engine failure.
“My idea for a demonstration of auto rotation was to put a raw egg on the model as a passenger. I picked up two eggs at nearby restaurant—one was for dress rehearsal—and set up a time with Larry to see the performance.”
“Back at the shop I rigged the machine to a vertical wire that was attached to the 30-foot ceiling. The model climbed too fast on my first attempt and the egg was tossed out as it hit the ceiling. When Larry saw the test, however, everything went smoothly and the helicopter autorated to the floor without breaking the egg. He was more than pleased with the demonstration and the funds were released.
“After some searching, we found our location—an old Chrysler agency and garage which was about 10 miles from Bell in Gardenville, a suburb of Buffalo. It had a big yard for preliminary testing and a meadow where we could make short flights. The building was easily converted into a combination machine shop, drafting room, office and workshop for making the blades. The garage served as our manufacturing facility.”
Almost immediately, following the Gardenville move on June 23,1942, a group of maintenance men paid an unforgettable visit to the new helicopter plant.
“They put up a board fence, painted it Navy gray and placed searchlights and armed guards all around,” Young said. “I called Bell powers and said listen—this will only attract attention to the place.
Everything was removed and our security measures were reduced to an inconspicuous night watchman.”
Young and his small staff were now ready to go to work on constructing the first helicopter, the Model 30.
Having their ups and downs
When Bell opened its first helicopter plant in Gardenville, there were about 15 people, including engineers, body men, tool and pattern makers, flight mechanics and one welder.
According to Bart Kelley, during the three-year Gardenville project (from June 1942 to June 1945 ), employees never exceeded 32 in number.
“After our relocation at Gardenville, things really began to hum,” Arthur Young recalled. “All the brains were in the small office so we all knew what was going on without having to send memos all over the place. If something went wrong, the machinist would just bring the drawing in and ask a question. It was all very simple.”
“It was the tightest organization I’ve ever seen from the aspect of scheduling,” Kelley added. “Every part, for instance, was assigned to an individual so everyone knew who had the responsibility.”
Just six months following the group’s arrival at Gardenville, the Model 30 was wheeled—or as Bart Kelley described it —”shoved out the garage door.”
The ceremony was on a cold winter day in December 1942. A shivering secretary broke a bottle of champagne on the fuselage and aircraft No. 1 was christened Genevieve.
Genevieve’s legs were made of 3 inch aluminum tubing; her magnificent rotor measured 32 feet and she was powered by a 160 hp Franklin air-cooled engine.
The rollout ceremony, however, was short lived because the machine wouldn’t start. Kelley towed it back inside with his car. Two batteries were added which gave the engine enough spark to kick her off.
“We made the helicopter so quickly, because we weren’t too sure how to make it,” Young reflected. “It took longer when you knew all the things that had to be done right.”
Although Arthur Young was not a pilot, he was the first to take the control of the Model 30 which was tethered to cables behind the garage. He sat on the helicopter’s seat—a wooden bench—and made brief hovers that were not more than a foot off the ground during early testing.
“Our first problem was excess vibration whenever Arthur hovered in a breeze of 20 knots or so,” Kelley pointed out. “We later solved this problem, but around late December of 1942 we had our first major setback.
“A Bell executive who was also a pilot, felt he should be the first to make the initial flight. While getting the feel of the machine in a tethered hover, he lost control was tossed into the rotor and slung onto a snow bank. Fortunately, his injuries were limited to a broken arm.”
About this time, a pilot was assigned to assist in the helicopter project. His name was Floyd Carlson. Carlson, who had started his flying career at the age of 14, was originally hired by Bell to test fighter planes.”
“When the ship was repaired, Floyd learned how to hover it almost immediately,” Young said, “and before long he could hold the aircraft motionless at high hovers.”
On June 26, 1943 the cable was removed and Carlson took the Model 30 on its maiden run around the meadow behind the garage. Six members of the Gardenville group, incidentally, acquired the ability to fly the helicopter from this tethered technique.
“During our first flights, the aircraft flew very well,” Young said, “until it got up to 25 miles per hour. Then, the helicopter experienced severe vibrations. It was actually Floyd who came up with an idea to remedy the situation. He suggested put tiny a brace on the rotor which we called the Swedish yoke. This yoke stiffened the rotor and we didn’t have this problem anymore.”
By July 1943, Ship No. 1 was flying at speeds over 70 miles per hour. The aircraft’s legs had been removed and replaced with wheels. Genevieve’s fuselage and tail-boom were also dressed up and painted blue so she’d look pretty during demonstrations.
When word of the successful helicopter flights got around, Gardenville began getting some important visitors. One was Igor Sikorsky.
“Sikorsky wanted to see the aircraft’s vertical engine mount,” Young remarked. “His entrance was made in a fleet of Cadillacs driven by vice presidents.
“I remember they all stood around the Model 30 in a circle. Finally, Sikorsky said to me “I zee you use zee vertical engine. I replied: ‘Yes, I use the vertical engine.” And that was the end of the conversation. They simply got in their Cadillacs and drove away.
“We also had a group of Russian generals pay US a call. Russia had purchased some Airacobras and the generals were at Bell to see how they were built. I’d been flying Ship 1 and when I landed they began swarming all over the aircraft.
“One of the generals kept turning on different switches and I said, ‘no,no!’ He didn’t understand so I slapped him on the wrist and he stopped. I think I’m the first person who ever slapped a Russian general on the wrist.”
While flights of the first Model 30 were underway, Ship No. 2 was being manufactured. Its specifications called for an enclosed cabin instead of the open cockpit and room for a passenger as well as the pilot.
“Under the agreement that Arthur had with Larry Bell,” Bart Kelley injected, “the first helicopter would be made to demonstrate the principles, the second, a twoplace machine, was to give Larry a ride.”
As the flight envelope for Ship No. 1 expanded, the field behind the garage wasn’t big enough for sufficient maneuvers, so the aircraft was towed by car to a small airport on Buffalo’s west side. Then in September 1943, another setback occurred. While Floyd Carlson was teaching himself to make landings without power in auto-rotation, the tail wheel struck the ground with sufficient force to cause a crack-up.
“Floyd said something like ‘oh hell!’ and climbed unhurt out of the wreckage,” Kelley recollected. “Luckily, most of the parts of the ship were salvageable and it was back in action in about six months.
Ship No. 2 replaced the first Model 30 as the test vehicle in late September 1943. It would have made its debut earlier, but suggestions came from Bell Aircraft that the helicopter should look like an Airacobra.
“A designer struggled with this idea for over a year,” Young said, “and when it was finally wheeled out we found that two people couldn’t get in, because it was too streamlined. The cockpit, of course had to be widened which took more time.”
One of the first passengers to fly in the second Model 30 was Larry Bell.
Relating Mr. Bell’s impression of the flight, Bart Kelley reports: “Larry said that since he was raised on a farm in Indiana, he’d seen a cow from every angle. But he’d never seen a cow from the angle that was provided by the helicopter.”
The Model 42… beauty and the beast
While Ship 1 was being rebuilt following its crack up, the second Model 30 began making a name for itself by giving rides and participating in a series of demonstrations.
The aircraft’s public debut occurred in March 1944. Heralding the event was a two-page spread in the Buffalo Sunday paper. “Long lines of traffic emerged behind the Gardenville shop,” Arthur Young recalled. “Nobody paid too much attention to us when we were conducting our test flights. Now spectators were all over the place.”
Ship 2 made another big hit May 10, 1944. This time the aircraft went inside the Buffalo Armory to put on a show at the request of the Civil Air Patrol. A crowd of officers and cadets watched in fascination. as Floyd Carlson put the machine through precision maneuvers.
Not only did the armory demonstration receive rave reviews, but it represented the first indoor flight of a helicopter in the Western Hemisphere.
In the spring of 1944, Ship 1 had been rebuilt and was rechristened 1A. Making a spectacular comeback, the helicopter was the star attraction at a soldier’s benefit show, staged at Buffalo’s Civil Stadium July 4. A crowd of 42,000 attended.
“The climax of our act was for Floyd to hover the front wheel of the helicopter into my extended hand,” Young remarked.
During this period the war clouds were breaking up. With the pursuit plane contracts coming to an end. Larry Bell fumed his attention to the helicopter as the answer to the company’s future. One day a group of engineers arrived at Gardenville to get acquainted with rotary-wing flight.
“Larry’s idea was for his main engineering department to develop a larger helicopter after they acquired the basics from us,” Young said. “Because we were considered a research unit, I believe he thought they could do a better job.”
The proposed helicopter, designated Model 42, looked impressive in design specifications and renderings. It was streamlined with plush seats and room for a pilot and four passengers. An introductory brochure showed a high speed of 130 mph and a maximum range of 450 miles.
Would this sophisticated machine, created from the results of a marketing survey, save the day?
At the same time the engineers were developing the Model 42, the Gardenville group had other plans—the construction of a third Model 30.
“Ship Three wasn’t exactly authorized,” Bart Kelley reflected. “In fact, management wasn’t even aware of it. There was no particular purpose in building this aircraft other than to straighten out the things that were wrong with the first two ships.
“A major change was to forget all about the looks of the fuselage which on ships one and two had resembled an airplane or an automobile. We simply concentrated on making something that would perform the best we know how as a helicopter.”
Improvements in the new bird would include a four-wheeled landing gear, an advanced instrument panel and a tubular tail boom.
Ship 3 was taking shape when Kelley received a phone call one night from a young management executive who had been assigned to keep tabs on the Gardenville group.
“We’d been caught,” said Kelley. “He’d gotten wind we were building a third helicopter and reminded me that we weren’t supposed to be doing this.
“I told him we needed it as a flying test bed—that it would be valuable in helping the production people make their larger helicopter. He finally said it would be OK for research, but if we planned to develop it as a product, Bell management wanted no no part of it.
“I really don’t blame him for his statement at the time. He was trying to separate products from research and like Larry Bell, he considered us a research department.”
The Gardenville group soon discovered they had a pretty good flying machine when the ship was launched April 25, 1945. In addition to its smooth handling qualities, the helicopter was excellent in autorotation landings. “Ship Three’s ride was like sitting in a chair and flying through space,” Young observed.
The third Model 30 proved to be the best of the trio to demonstrate. A handicap, however, was that passengers had no protection from the wind and other elements.
The third Model 30 proved to be the best of the trio to demonstrate. A handicap, however, was that passengers had no protection from the wind and other elements.
Young gave the matter some thought. His idea was to take a large piece of heated Plexiglas and blow it up like a soap bubble to cover the dimensions of the cockpit. The ingenious bubble gave the pilot and passenger undistorted vision as well as a comfortable ride.
Many famous personalities were given a spin in the “bubble” machine. They included New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey and the popular Mayor of New York City, Fiorello LaGuardia.
“I remember Mayor LaGuardia stooping under the rotor to get in the ship,” Young said, “but I don’t know why because he was so short. Harry Truman, who was then vice president, also witnessed test flights before we started giving rides.”
In the meantime, Ship 2 was putting the helicopter on the map by chalking up impressive accomplishments.
On Jan. 15, 1945, a Bell test pilot parachuted from a damaged fighter plane and made his way to an isolated farmhouse. He needed medical attention.
An item in Western Flying magazine read: “A dramatic example of the practical use of the helicopter occurred in weatherlocked Western New York when a Bell Aircraft helicopter carried a doctor to the aid of an injured pilot, snowbound in a farmhouse.”
“The helicopter, a two-place experimental model, was flown by Floyd Carlson 20 miles from the Bell helicopter facilities in Gardenville, N.Y. to a point just south of Lockport, N.Y. There, the rotary aircraft landing on a road, took on Dr. Thomas C. Marriott as a passenger, covered five miles in a few minutes and deposited the Buffalo physician in the yard of the farmhouse.
“It is believed to be the first time in the United States a doctor has used a helicopter on a mercy mission.”
Ship 2 also had the distinction of being the first Bell helicopter to make a rescue mission. It happened March 14, 1945, when Carlson picked up two men from a crumbling spring ice flow in Lake Erie. Both had been given up for lost, since the ice was too heavy to permit rescue by boat, and too weak to permit rescue by sled.
While the three Model 30 helicopters were making headlines, the sleek Model 42 was proving to be a problem child.
The aircraft was like a combination of beauty and the beast. On the outside, its sweeping lines and classic nose seemed to convey—”this is the helicopter of the future.” But strip away the 42’s comely cover and you’d find a monstrous tangle of cables winding around drums and a chamber of mechanical horrors.
You knew you had problems, for instance, when the pilot pulled the collective pitch lever up and the blades turned down.
“The 42’s snag was that the engineers had attempted to build a helicopter like an airplane,” Young said “Their approach was to make the drawings first, manufacture the ship and test it. Our system was to manufacture, test, make modifications and then make the drawings.”
In the meantime, the third Model 30’s performance capabilities were drawing quite a few followers.
“Ship 3 came at a time when the company was kind of discouraged, because military orders had been cancelled,” Young noted. “The contraption from Gardenville didn’t look too pretty, but passengers were sold on the machine after the first ride.”
Larry Bell had also become sold on Ship 3 and made the decision to transfer the responsibility of helicopter development and production from his product department to the Gardenville group. His faith in the project and the men behind it was shown with the placement of a 500 unit order for Franklin engines. Another big job handed to Young and Bart Kelley was to bail out the Model 42.
“When the Model 42 was given to us to fix, it was very encouraging, because it was an admission that the Gardenville methods could do what the system could not,” Young pointed out.
During the war, Bell’s main plant had been moved from Buffalo to Niagara Falls. To give the group more elbow room and the convenience of the factory facilities, they were relocated there on June 24, 1945.
At Niagara (the Wheatfield Plant), the group was installed in a spacious area, complete with offfices, a hangar and model and machine shops. Other specialists were added to the project; drawings for the production prototype Model 47 materialized.
“To profit by our experience, all the major components of Ship 3 were modified or replaced,” Young related. “This included the mast, bar control system, and ground gears in the transmission.”
Charged with enthusiasm, Young and his associates started assembly work on the new helicopter.
“We rolled the first Model 47 out on December 8, 1945, less than six months after the Gardenville group arrived in Niagara,” Young said. “Things went fast, because we’d gained considerable ‘howto’ from our Model 30 testing.”
It wasn’t long before 10 additional aircraft were produced. They would be used for demonstrations, training people to fly and as product improvement vehicles.
Floyd Carlson, who was then chief pilot, tells about the certification program.
“The Civil Aeronautics Administration (now the FAA) had never certified a commercial helicopter and Bell had never experienced certification of a helicopter, so we both had a lot to learn.
“CAA cooperation couldn’t have been better. Since we were going after the first commercial helicopter, the CAA sent its best people in from Washington, D.C. to participate in the certification. We even had the head of flight standards to supervise the flight tests.
“The CAA pilot let me do all the flying, which involved a lot of performance testing and precision maneuvers. Our aircraft performed right well, especially in autorotation landings where I did throttle chops at different altitudes and speeds.
“There were no major problems during the certification. Today, it’s much more time consuming. There was less instrumentation in those days and we didn’t have to do such things as load surveys. Another reason we progressed through certification so rapidly was that we’d done so much flying in Ship 3, which was a similar aircraft.
“At the time, we were also in a race with Sikorsky to receive the first commercial ticket, so we had yet more incentive to achieve a successful flight program.”
It happened on March 8, 1946!
This was the day when the Model 47 was awarded the world’s first commercial helicopter license. It was a day that Young described his emotions as “feeling like a combination of a bridegroom at a wedding or a father in a maternity ward.”
“Even though it didn’t look as sleek as management wished, the homely machine won the day,” added Bart Kelley. “It was a story with a happy ending like ‘The Ugly Duckling’.”
The Model 47’s story was a long one. During it’s 27-year manufacturing history, over 5,000 commercial and military versions came off the assembly line. When the series was retired in 1973, the machine had been made in more than 20 different configurations and manufactured under license in Italy, Japan and England.
What became of the Model 42? Young and Kelley eventually got the bugs out of the ship and it was displayed at a Cleveland air show in December 1946. Sharing the spotlight was a streamlined cabin type Model 47 and the “ugly duckling” bubble bird.
“People swarmed all over the open bubble job and wouldn’t touch the Model 42 with a 10-foot pole,” Young said. “The customers just wouldn’t accept it.”
Summing up the accomplishments of Arthur Young, his life-long friend, Bart Kelley said:
“Arthur is not only credited with inventing the world’s first commercially practical helicopter, but he has many other talents as well.
“He has recently published four books expounding his new and convincing philosophies. Arthur is also a poet and painter, a talent he inherited from both parents.
“As a boy, Arthur was a ham radio operator. Those were the days when you couldn’t buy whole black boxes ready to plug in. He built his own set from scratch, station 3BEC.
“But a list of accomplishments has little meaning without a knowledge of the character of the man.
“Arthur’s is an original and penetrating mind. He is always suspicious of the establishment—the conventional approach— whether it be in science or engineering.
“As the most intellectually honest person I know, he can be as hard on himself as he can be impatient with stupidity and artificiality in others. This hasn’t always made him easy to deal with, but in the end his uncompromising respect for truth stimulates those around him.
“Add a delightful sense of humor, born of his ability to look objectively at life, and you have a thumbnail sketch of the inventor of the Bell Helicopter.”