The Bell Helicopter is born in Cheektowaga
On March 8, 1946, the Bell Model 47 was awarded the first commercial helicopter license. 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. That challenge was the helicopter.
Young set up a small aeronautical laboratory in a barn on the family estate in Radnor, Pa. where he began experimenting with small models. 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.
This chance came with 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. Larry Bell and the inventor reached an agreement on November 24, 1941.
"I determined that in order to have more room to build and fly the machine, it was essential that we have our own plant. After some searching, we found our location—an old Chrysler agency and garage (Union Garage, Union Road at Losson Road), in Gardenville (Cheektowaga) a suburb of Buffalo which was about 10 miles from Bells Buffalo plant. 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."
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.
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.
Problems with this first aircraft prevented a flight and it wasn’t until June 26, 1943 that the
cable was removed and Floyd Carlson took the Model 30 on its maiden run around the
meadow behind the garage.
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.
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
One of the first passengers to fly in the second Model 30 was Larry Bell.