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Airplane Picture - Bell Aircraft Corporation assembly factory in Wheatfield, New York, during the 1940s. This unit produced the Bell P-39 Airacobra.

Bell Aircraft Corporation Information

Bell Aircraft

Industry: Aerospace
Successor: Bell Helicopter
Founded: 10 July 1935
Defunct: 5 July 1960
Headquarters: Buffalo, New York
Key people: Lawrence Bell
Products: P-39 Airacobra P-63 Kingcobra Bell X-1

The Bell Aircraft Corporation was an aircraft manufacturer of the United States, a builder of several types of fighter aircraft for World War II but most famous for the Bell X-1, the first supersonic aircraft, and for the development and production of many important civilian and military helicopters. Bell also developed the Reaction Control System for the Mercury Spacecraft and the Bell Rocket Belt. The company was purchased in 1960 by Textron, and lives on today as Bell Helicopter.


Larry Bell had been an early employee and then later, general manager of the Glenn L. Martin Company, followed by a stint as a manager for Consolidated Aircraft in Buffalo, New York. Consolidated Aircraft moved to 2050 Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo . When Consolidated Aircraft moved to San Diego in 1935, Bell stayed behind and established his own company, the Bell Aircraft Company, on 10 July 1935, headquartered in Buffalo.

Bell's first military contract followed in 1937 with the development of the ill-fated YFM-1 Airacuda, an unconventional bomber-destroyer powered by two Allison-powered pusher propellers. Only 13 Airacudas were be produced, and these were flown by the USAAF for just three years before being scrapped as useless.

Airplane Picture - Bell Aircraft Corporation assembly factory in Wheatfield, New York, during the 1940s. This unit produced the Bell P-39 Airacobra.

Picture - Bell Aircraft Corporation assembly factory in Wheatfield, New York, during the 1940s. This unit produced the Bell P-39 Airacobra.

Bell enjoyed some success the following year with the development of the single engine P-39. Putting their previous experience with Allison engines to good use, the P-39 placed the engine in the center of the aircraft, with the propellor driven by a long shaft through which a cannon was also mounted. This fired directly out through the propellor's spinner. Lacking a supercharger or turbocharger, the P-39 performed poorly at high altitudes compared to other fighters of the time, though many P-39s were given to the Soviet Air Force under the Lend Lease Act, where they proved themselves to be an good ground-attack aircraft. This was also demonstrated by a few U.S. Army Air Forces units that flew P-39s, such as the so-called Cactus Air Force on Guadalcanal in 1942 - 43.

A somewhat larger and more powerful version of the P-39 was produced shortly before the end of WW II. Called the P-63 Kingcobra, this warplane addressed many of the shortcomings of the P-39, though it was produced too late in the war to make any contribution. Also, by that time, the Army Air Forces already had the superior P-47 Thunderbolt and P-38 Lightning fighter-bombers.

The main productive activity that Bell Aircraft had during WW II was as a second or third producer of heavy bombers that had been designed and built by other aircraft companies. This happened at a government-built airplane factory that was constructed near Marietta, Georgia, just northwest of Atlanta. This factory was completed in mid-1943, and Bell Aircraft won contracts to build hundreds of Consolidated B-24 Liberators and Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers at this factory. Then, in mid-1944, the production of the B-24 was consolidated from several different companies (including some in Texas, also) to two large factories: the Consolidated Aircraft Company in San Diego and the Ford Motor Company's huge factory in Willow Run, next to Detroit, Michigan, which had been specially designed for producing B-24s. Hence, for the rest of WW II, Bell Aircraft concentrated on producing B-29s in Marietta, Ga. The production of the B-29 ended in the fall of 1945.

Bell Aircraft after World War II

Note that the aircraft factory in Marietta later became the property of the Lockheed Corporation, which has used it for producing C-130 Hercules, C-141 Starlifter, and C-5 Galaxy transport planes. Something that can be somewhat confusing is that the Martin Marietta Corporation never has had anything to do with Marietta, Ga., or the State of Georgia. The name "Martin Marietta" came from the merger of two companies: the Martin Aircraft Company and the American Marietta Company, a large sand and gravel mining company.

Although Bell designed several more fighter plane designs during and after WW II, none of these ever entered mass-production. The twin-jet P-59 Airacomet, really an experimental airplane, was the first American jet fighter to fly, though its performance turned out to be inferior to the propeller-driven P-51 Mustang fighters, which were flown by the thousands by the Army Air Forces in both the European Theater and the Pacific Theater.

The XP-77 was a small fighter using non-strategic materials; it was not successful. The XP-83 was a jet escort fighter similar in layout to the P-59 that was cancelled. The Bell XF-109 was a supersonic vertical takeoff supersonic fighter that was cancelled in 1961.

As well as manufacturing their own products Bell was a major contributor to the B-29 Superfortress program, with a factory at Marietta, Ga., producing 668 of the four-engined heavy bombers.

Perhaps Bell Aircraft's most important contribution to the history of fixed wing aircraft development would be the design and building of the experimental Bell X-1, rocket plane the first airplane to break the sound barrier, and its follow-on, the Bell X-2. Note that in a twist on the usual way of designating American aircraft, the following were not different models of the X-1, but rather they were the successive (mostly identical) units of the X-1 program: the X-1, X-1A, X-1B, X-1C, X-1D, and X-1E.

Bell went on to design and produce several different experimental aircraft during the 1950s. These helped the U.S. Air Force and the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) explore the boundaries of aircraft design, and paving the way for the founding of NASA and the exploration of outer space.

Helicopter development began at Bell Aircraft in 1941 with the company's first one, the Bell Model 30 first flying in 1943. Bell Helicopters became the only part of Bell Aircraft still producing aircraft when Bell was purchased by the Textron Corporation. That part of Textron is now known today as Bell Helicopter Textron. After a series of successful helicopter designs, the UH-1 Iroquois became the most noted helicopter of the War in Vietnam, and Bell Helicopters still designs and manufactures helicopters today.

Lawrence Bell died in 1956, and for several years afterwards the company was in financial difficulty.

Textron purchased the Bell Aerospace part of the corporation on 5 July 1960. Bell Aerospace was composed of three divisions of Bell Aircraft, including its helicopter division, which had become its only aircraft-producing division.

Product list

Fixed-wing aircraft, in order of development:

YFM-1 Airacuda
P-39 Airacobra
P-63 Kingcobra
P-59 Airacomet
Consolidated B-24 Liberator
Boeing B-29 Superfortress

Bell Helicopter
Harvey Gaylord

Pelletier, Alan J. Bell Aircraft Since 1935. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1992.

Bell Aircraft Pictures and Bell Aircraft for Sale.

Living Warbirds: The best warbirds DVD series.

Source: WikiPedia

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