Bell Aircraft History Essay Example
Bell Aircraft History Essay Example

Bell Aircraft History Essay Example

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During the early nineteen hundreds, there was fierce competition among engineers, inventors, and large companies to develop groundbreaking technology. This race for innovation was fueled by the industrial revolution and technological boom of the time. On December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers achieved a significant milestone by successfully creating the first airplane. This invention marked the beginning of a new industry with promising growth opportunities for both small manufacturers and big corporations.

As a result of this development, several companies emerged during this period to compete for consumer attention in aviation. Names such as Boeing, Glenn Martin, Thomas Brothers, Consolidated Aircraft, Burgess, and Lockheed became prominent players in the industry (13).

Using the skills acquired at Glenn Martin and Consolidated Aircraft, La


wrence Bell took a leap of faith and established his own aircraft company. His goal was to compete with the already established companies in the emerging aircraft market. Throughout its history, Bell Aircraft has effectively adapted to the evolving market and achieved success in the industry. This was not accomplished simply by reinventing existing aircraft, but by creating original designs. Born on April 5th, 1894, Lawrence "Larry" Dale Bell hailed from Mentone, Indiana, a small town with an area of less than one square mile and a current population of fewer than one thousand (14).

Life in Mentone was uneventful and the family relocated to Santa Monica, California in 1907 due to his father's job (10). In January 1910, Larry and his older brother, Grover, attended the inaugural major U.S. Air Show at Dominguez Field near Los Angeles. This experience served as their inspiration for constructing their own mode

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plane capable of flight. While Larry was still attending school, Grover acquired flying skills and eventually partnered with stunt pilot Lincoln Beachey. In 1912, Grover and Lincoln approached Larry with an invitation to become their mechanic, a proposal which he happily accepted.

Unfortunately, in 1913, Grover died in a stunt accident, causing Larry to leave the stunt aviation business. However, he couldn't stay away from the aviation industry completely and was hired by the Glenn Martin Company that same year. By the age of twenty-two, just three years after being hired, Larry rose to the position of Vice President at the company. He gained expertise in aviation by observing Glenn Martin's efforts to pioneer the industry. In 1928, Larry relocated to Buffalo, New York, to work for Consolidated Aircraft, where he quickly assumed the roles of Vice President and general manager.

In 1935, Consolidated Aircraft relocated from Buffalo to San Diego because it was difficult to test planes during severe winters. However, Larry decided to stay in Buffalo and not join the move. On July 10th of the same year, he founded Bell Aircraft Corporation and established a factory on Elmwood Avenue (9). Fortunately, as tensions escalated between Hitler's allies and opposing countries, the U.S military began constructing a war industry in anticipation of potential conflict. The company's achievements were greatly influenced by the significant need for military aircraft.

Bell Aircraft secured their inaugural military contract in 1937 when they designed the YFM-1 Airacuda, an extraordinary fighter aircraft that functioned as a mobile anti-aircraft platform and a convoy fighter. It was specifically engineered to eliminate enemy bombers at distances exceeding those manageable by single-seat

fighter interceptors. Additionally, the Airacuda incorporated numerous unprecedented features within military aviation. With its futuristic and efficient design, the Airacuda stood out as a fighter plane "unlike any other fighters up to that time."

In 1942, major Alexander De Seversky praised the Airacuda as a remarkable accomplishment in his book about aircrafts (6). The military introduced the P-39 Airacobra the next year, which had several distinctive features that made it highly desired. These included a tricycle undercarriage, a centrally positioned engine behind the pilot, and a machine gun that extended through the center of the propeller. Many of these planes were supplied to the Soviet Union through the Lend Lease Act and proved to be successful ground-attack planes, surpassing all other U.S. fighter planes in individual kills (9).

During World War II in 1939, the aircraft industry witnessed substantial growth. Bell Aircraft capitalized on this opportunity by adapting to market demands and expanding their business. Their goal was to manufacture high-revenue aircraft, which they achieved through two strategies: improving their own models and producing/selling planes from other companies. In 1940, the government's funding for a new facility in Niagara Falls further augmented Bell Aircraft's workforce to a grand total of 32,022 employees.

During the war, the P-39 was manufactured continuously. To address several issues, a subsequent aircraft called the P-63 Kingcobra was produced. The wing of the P-63 underwent redesigning to modify the airfoil and increase internal volume. In a different engine, an enhanced supercharger was used to increase speed. Additionally, each wing had a machine gun installed to expand the firing range (9). These aircraft were utilized by multiple countries during

World War II apart from the U.S.

During the war, Bell Aircraft participated in different projects such as the P-39 and P-63. They also produced gun mounts for the Navy through their Ordnance Division in Burlington, Vermont. Furthermore, they ran a separate factory known as the Bell Modification Center in Niagara Falls. This facility modified over 7,000 aircraft before the war ended. Bell believed that this experience would be beneficial after the war since modifications to military equipment would be required to meet civilian demands within the aviation industry (8).

The main role of Bell Aircraft in production was primarily as a secondary producer of heavy bombers made by larger aircraft companies. The government constructed an airplane factory in Marietta, Georgia for Bell Aircraft, which was finished in the middle of 1943. At this factory, Bell Aircraft secured contracts to manufacture numerous Consolidated B-24 Liberators and Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers. Bell stated, "I believe, and others share this opinion as well, that the B-29 plant in Georgia was possibly the largest and most successful single manufacturing enterprise in the country during the war." Bell also mentioned that his acquaintances in the area have consistently informed him that Bell Aircraft potentially had a greater impact on the revitalization of the South than any other endeavor that has ever been undertaken (8).

During the war, various companies produced and extensively utilized these planes. The B-24 Liberators were manufactured in over 18,400 units, while nearly 4,000 B-29 Superfortresses were made across the country (8). Constructing one hundred of each would generate a profit of approximately $100 million, equivalent to over a billion dollars in today's

currency. The cost of a B-24 was $297,627 and a B-29 was priced at $639,188 (8).

During World War II, Bell Aircraft capitalized on the opportunity to generate significant profits through the manufacturing of various aircraft from different companies. By producing large quantities of each plane, they were able to achieve substantial financial gains. In 1944, they further optimized production by exclusively assigning the B-24 to Ford Motor Company and Consolidated Aircraft Company. Consequently, all 36,000 workers at Bell Aircraft were solely dedicated to constructing the more expensive B-29s. This analogy implies that they were producing luxury Ferraris at a rate comparable to the more affordable Honda Civic.

Bell Aircraft experienced its peak in terms of employee count, reaching 36,000 by the end of the war. It operated numerous factories nationwide and embarked on a pioneering journey with two aircraft types that would heavily influence its future: jets and helicopters. Yet, the company encountered challenges in the jet fighter domain before finding success. As a result, after the war ended, Lockheed Corporation purchased the Marietta factory, resulting in layoffs as a means to sustain budget stability.

In order to keep up with the advancements in aircraft production and satisfy the military's reduced demand for planes, Larry and his company had to find a way to outshine their competitors and generate enough revenue. Major General Henry Arnold, an Air Force officer, discovered the UK's jet program during a demonstration in April 1941. He obtained the plans for the jet engine and brought them back to the U.S. Subsequently, on September 4th, he contracted General Electric to manufacture an American version of the engine.

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The next day, he discussed with Lawrence Dale Bell from Bell Aircraft Corporation about constructing a fighter that could use it. Bell agreed and began working on three prototypes in complete secrecy. On Sept. 30, 1942, the P-59 Airacomet, America's first jet aircraft, made its maiden flight. The design was influenced by European blueprints and powered by two General Electric engines. One noteworthy feature was the incorporation of an observer's seat located ahead of the cockpit (8).

Fifty P-59s were constructed, but their performance fell short of expectations. Despite this, the P-59 proved to be a successful test platform and played a key role in ushering in the jet age in the U.S. Bell Aircraft made several attempts to develop a viable jet aircraft, starting with their lightweight aircraft project in 1944 known as the XP-77. This jet fighter incorporated wood materials and a lightweight engine, but it failed to deliver satisfactory performance, leading to its cancellation. In 1945, Bell Aircraft endeavored to create a jet with superior fuel efficiency. The resulting prototype, the XP-83, was a jet fighter resembling the P-59 but lacked sufficient power. Following the construction of a second prototype, the project was ultimately discontinued.

Finally, after numerous unsuccessful attempts, they decided to take inspiration from Hollywood and create the most futuristic plane imaginable. The XF-109 was an original design like nothing before - an eight-engine, Mach two capable, vertical takeoff and landing jet. The military, who was funding the project, ultimately deemed it too costly and decided to cancel it. However, Bell Aircraft managed to create a life-size model of the jet that not only functioned efficiently but

also left a mark in history.

The concept of a supersonic aircraft surpassing the speed of sound was conceived in 1944. Although Larry Bell recognized the importance of this research, he also understood the need for practical applications beyond its research benefits, especially during wartime. Despite some initial hesitation, Larry ultimately decided to proceed with the project. As a result, Bell Aircraft won the contract in 1945 to build the "Supersonic-1" or X-1.

The X-1 aircraft was designed to resemble a stable fifty-caliber bullet in supersonic flight. However, it was later found that the jet engines lacked sufficient power. To resolve this problem, Larry sought permission from the Navy to use their developing rocket engine. Consequently, the X-1 became the pioneer aircraft with a liquid-propellant rocket engine. On January 25th, 1946, Chuck Yeager successfully piloted the X-1 and created history by surpassing Mach 1, thus breaking the sound barrier.

During Larry Bell’s acceptance speech for the Collier Trophy awarded by President Truman, Bell emphasized the significance of the X-1 aircraft. He stated that the aircraft had been flown multiple times in different speed ranges without any modifications, which was a testament to the engineering team. Bell also mentioned that the Army continued the project after the successful X-1 flight, creating various versions to explore different aspects of Mach speed (11).

The X-1A aircraft was specifically built for testing aerodynamic occurrences and speeds above Mach 2, as well as altitudes exceeding 90,000 feet. During a flight with Yeager as the pilot, the X-1A successfully achieved the desired speed and altitude. However, it soon lost control and rapidly descended 65,000 feet, subjecting Yeager

to accelerations eight times the force of gravity. Remarkably, he was able to recover from this situation. Inertia coupling was identified as the cause, wherein the inertia of the heavier fuselage overpowered the aerodynamic stabilizing forces of the wing and empennage (5). The X-1B aircraft, on the other hand, was equipped with heating instrumentation to facilitate thermal research, completing a total of 27 flights for test purposes.

The X-1B was the first aircraft to utilize a sophisticated control system, made possible by the inclusion of small reaction rockets. Regrettably, the X-1C, which had been intended for high-speed munition testing, was discontinued during its mock-up stage. Likewise, both the X-1D and X-1E were created for heat transfer research. However, the X-1D experienced a crash while the X-1E had to be permanently grounded due to cracks found in its fuel tank. Despite these setbacks, Bell persisted in developing innovative aircraft designs after the military assumed control of the X-1 project.

The X-5 was the first aircraft in the world with "swing-wing" capabilities, allowing for forward and backward movement of the wings during flight. This unique feature enabled the jet to fly efficiently at both low and high speeds. When the wings were positioned forward, the aircraft could fly slowly and effectively carry heavy cargo. Conversely, when the wings were retracted, the jet could achieve Mach speeds at high altitudes (11). Bell Aircraft successfully navigated through a recession by continuously innovating and adapting within the aircraft industry. By thinking outside conventional boundaries, Bell Aircraft sought to broaden their product range to encompass the emerging field of helicopters.

During World War II, Igor Sikorsky and Lawrence LePage were

in a rivalry to create the first military helicopter for the United States. However, it was Sikorsky who ultimately succeeded with the R-4, which became the sole mass-produced helicopter used during the war. In contrast, Larry Bell came to realize that he lacked both sufficient knowledge and time to develop a military helicopter given the ongoing war situation. Consequently, his focus shifted towards designing an affordable civilian helicopter that would enjoy widespread acceptance. To convince the board of directors, Bell confidently declared, "The only way we can sell the helicopter is to have the courage to build some" (8).

In 1941, Arthur M. Young joined Bell Aircraft as a helicopter development expert. Prior to his employment, Young dedicated twelve years to designing model helicopters. These models were instrumental in assisting Bell Aircraft in constructing prototypes (3). From his models, Young devised several changes to enhance flight stability and efficiency. His first breakthrough involved demonstrating that independently hinged blades would mimic the mast's movements. By December of 1939, Young had created a mast-mounted stabilizing bar that significantly enhanced the hover performance of the models.

Replacing the bar with a flywheel allowed the model to have omnidirectional flying capabilities (3). The initial flight-testing of the Model 30 took place on December 29th, 1942, one year after Young's employment. While testing in May of 1943, it was discovered that when the helicopter reached speeds of twenty miles per hour, it experienced severe shaking. It was determined that the rotor blades were not sturdy enough to maintain a smooth ride at higher speeds. To address this issue, a device was created to keep the blades rigid, causing

them to rise when the speed increased (3). This solution proved successful as the helicopter easily surpassed its original speed limit of twenty miles per hour.

Larry Bell and Arthur Young introduced the addition of a tricycle wheel arrangement for landing as their next modification. They proceeded to exhibit the original Model 30 and a second model to various audiences after achieving successful landings. Larry Bell promoted the versatility of the helicopter, claiming it to be "the only vehicle of transportation in the world that's self-contained." He stressed that buying a helicopter eliminates the necessity for road, harbor, right of way, or airport construction – essentially rendering these unnecessary.

Bell and Young (8) suggest that there is no need to stick to predetermined routes or go through airports; individuals can freely choose their destinations. However, Bell and Young differ in their opinions on what should be done next. While Bell proposes conducting additional tests for a better understanding of flight characteristics, Young advocates for making radical modifications to the Model 30. Eventually, Bell's perspective prevails, but secretly, Young creates a new helicopter resulting in a third model. After testing it, Bell approves of this decision upon discovering it. The success of this third model, known as ship three, leads to the development of the Model 47 with a production quantity of 10,000 units.

The Model 47 was the first helicopter to be commercially certified and used in the military (3). This success led Bell Aircraft to produce other successful helicopters, including the impactful UH-1 Iroquois. The UH-1, developed by Bell Helicopter in 1952, was used during the early 1960s in the Vietnam

War. It became the most notable helicopter of the war and was primarily used for medical evacuations and utility purposes. The UH-1 first flew on October 20th, 1956.

The UH-1, ordered in March 1960, was the United States military's first turbine-powered helicopter to go into production. It was equipped with a single turbo shaft engine and featured a two-bladed main rotor and tail rotor. Over 16,000 of these helicopters were manufactured worldwide throughout the war. During their service in the Vietnam War, the UH-1 proved to be versatile and efficient, fulfilling various roles. Those assigned with ground attack or armed escort duties were fitted with rocket launchers, grenade launchers, and machine guns.

In 1962, the army themselves locally modified UH-1s, making their own mounting systems. Hunter-killer teams with surveillance helicopters were also deployed, using UH-1s to locate and attack enemy bases. Later on, during the 1972 Easter Invasion, two UH-1B helicopters equipped with the XM26 Armament Subsystem were deployed to counter the threat. The UH-1, which was tested with TOW missiles towards the end of the conflict, remains in service today and has shaped the course of history.

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