24 April 2016

The Grand Daddy of the Bell Helicopter Family: The 1942 Model 30

I had posted an article this past November on how a self-taught engineer, Arthur Young, got Bell Aircraft into the helicopter business. Young had demonstrated to Larry Bell himself the stability and controllability of his model helicopter designs. From my November 2015 article: 
On 3 September 1941, Young arrived at Bell's Buffalo plant and was taken to a hangar where P-39s were prepared for delivery. Bell ordered the personnel in the hanger to stop work and move the P-39s outside to give Young room for his demonstration. Not only did Young fly a successful demonstration for Larry Bell, he also reviewed with Bell films showing his previous design efforts and showed him his notes on the design process he had developed to solve the problems of vertical flight. Bell was enthralled by Arthur Young and wanted to hear Young's ideas on a full-size piloted helicopter design. In a matter of weeks they reached an agreement where Young would come to Buffalo and work for Bell in developing a new helicopter based on his designs. Young assigned his patents to Bell Aircraft and Larry Bell funded the development of two full-sized helicopters. Young wanted two aircraft in case one crashed and Bell insisted that the second prototype be a two-seater so he could go on a ride!

Though Bell had established a $250,000 budget for Arthur Young and the design and fabrication of a full-scale flying helicopter prototype, the demands of the war effort meant that just about anyone and everyone who worked at Bell was assigned to one of the three shifts that were running around the clock building aircraft. Larry Bell was under the impression that Young would produce manufacturing drawings while Young was under the impression that he would design *and* build the helicopter prototypes. Young had successfully argued that plans couldn't be drawn until more was known about vertical flight through experimentation and test flying. The original agreement was clarified and amended to provide for the construction of two prototypes which would be designated the Model 30. Larry Bell, however, not understanding the nature of helicopter flight himself, would only agree to the fabrication of flying prototypes if Young could assure him that if the engine quit, the helicopter wouldn't drop out of the sky, killing its pilot. Young took one of his remote controlled models, attached an egg to it, and with Larry Bell watching, turned off the electric motor and the model autorotated smoothly to the ground without breaking the egg!

The Birthplace of Bell Helicopter in Gardenville, New York
(Bell Helicopter)
It was decided that a work space separate from the main Bell plant in Buffalo was needed and a vacant Chrysler car dealership building in Gardenville was secured for Young's use. However, since Young had to agree to not place additional burdens on Bell's engineering staff, Young did most of the engineering work himself with his assistant, Bart Kelley (who had been working for Young even before Young joined Bell). Skilled tradesmen and a few draftsmen were sent to Gardenville from the Bell plant- at any given point during the three year development program, Young only had 24 to 32 workers at his disposal. Using one of Young's flying models as a pattern which was scaled up six times, the first Model 30 helicopter was designed and fabricated in just six months starting in June 1942 and was named "Genevieve"- the name never caught on, as everyone referred to this helicopter as "Ship 1". 

The single-seat fuselage was made of plywood and welded tubing with magnesium sheet covering the tail boom. The rotor blades (32 feet in diameter) were made of a composite sandwich of balsa and fir wood with a stainless steel leading edge for reinforcement. A 165-horsepower Franklin flat-six piston engine was used as the power plant. Franklin engines were light aircraft engines used in a variety of light aircraft at the time. The engine was mounted vertically under the rotor mast. Since no one at Bell knew how to make a helicopter transmission, one of Arthur Young's model's transmission was scaled up for the Model 30. 

Ship 1 with its original "spider legs"
Ship 1 was rolled out of the Gardenville facility on 18 December 1942. It initially had four long spidery legs for its early flight test program that began with its maiden flight on 29 December 1942. Since the program didn't have the budget for a test pilot, Arthur Young himself made the first flight! When Bell's chief test pilot, Robert Stanley, wanted to have a go at the Model 30, he over controlled it and crash landed it. As a result, Bell assigned the Model 30 its own test pilot to work with Arthur Young and prevent further mishaps. Easily repaired, the Model 30 prototype continued its flight test program and experimentation which allowed Arthur Young and his small team to refine the rotor head and transmission design while work began on the second helicopter, designated Ship 2. 

In September 1943, the project's test pilot, Floyd Carlson, was attempting the first autorotation landings when Ship 1 landed hard and crashed a second time. Despite having sustained more damage than the first crash, Ship 1 was rebuilt as Ship 1A but Ship 2 was quickly finished and picked up the Model 30 flight test program in the fall of 1943. As had been agreed upon initially between Larry Bell and Arthur Young, Ship 2 was a two seater with an enclosed cabin as opposed to the open single seat cockpit of Ship 1. With a two seat flying prototype, Bell formally notified the company's board of directors that they had a flying helicopter prototype in testing and that it would be Bell Aircraft's goal of getting into the helicopter business in the postwar period. It was around the end of 1943 that Larry Bell got his wish to ride in a helicopter when Floyd Carlson took up for a short hop around Gardenville. The expanding flight test program with Ship 2 made it a local celebrity with locals lining the fences to catch sight of it in flight. On 4 July 1944, the rebuilt Ship 1 as Ship 1A gave a flight demonstration to thousands of spectators at Buffalo Civic Stadium. With two helicopters in the flight test program, it was inevitable that Bell would be asked to fly rescue flights with the Model 30. 

The two seat Ship 2
(Toronto Aviation History)
On 5 January 1945, Bell test pilot Jack Woolams was injured bailing out of an early model P-59 Airacomet jet fighter. Though injured, Woolams walked a mile deep snowdrifts to reach a farm house in Lockport, New York. With the roads in the area closed due to the heavy snowfall several days earlier, Floyd Carlson flew a physician in Ship 2 to the farm house where Woolams was treated, preventing the need for amputation of his frost-bitten feet. On 14 March 1945, Floyd Carlson was asked again to assist with a rescue and he flew Ship 2 to save two fishermen who had been stranded on an ice floe in Lake Erie for 21 hours. He flew out, picked up the first fisherman, brought him to shore and then went back for the second one. Amusingly the fishermen had insisted on bringing the fish they caught with them, but Carlson refused on the grounds there was no room and Ship 2 couldn't handle the extra weight!

Ship 3, the unauthorized helicopter
In January 1945, Arthur Young and his growing Gardenville helicopter development team decided to build a third Model 30. Though not authorized by contract, they had figured out they had the parts and sufficient funding to proceed, though they did it quietly starting in January 1945 since it was an unauthorized project. It was decided that Ship 3 would be a two-seater like Ship 2, but it would incorporate all the lessons learned in the design, fabrication and flight testing of Ship 1A and Ship 2. It was only when Ship 3 made its first flight on 20 April 1945 that its existence was revealed to Larry Bell and the company's management. While most company managers might have been upset with this sort of activity, the Gardenville team explained that Ship 3 would bring Bell Aircraft much closer to its goal of entering the civilian helicopter market as it embodied all the lessons learned from the past three years. 

To say that Ship 3 would bring Bell Aircraft closer to entering the civilian helicopter market would be an understatement- Ship 3, in effect, was the prototype for Bell's first success in the postwar market for any aircraft design in its portfolio- the iconic Bell Model 47 helicopter. 

But that's a story for a future article here at Tails Through Time! 

Further reading: 

Arthur Young Gets Bell into the Helicopter Business

Sources: The Bell Helicopter Textron Story: Changing the Way the World Flies by David A. Brown. Aerofax Publications, 1995, pp 19-39. "Bell Model 30 Ship 1A Genevieve" at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum.

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