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EAA Young Eagles - Ask the Expert

Question :
Could you please tell me the history of the Bellanca Aircraft Company? I'm from their hometown, and I'm curious to learn more about them. Kreg
Answer :
From Wikipedia:

The Bellanca Aircraft Company was founded in 1927 by Giuseppe Mario Bellanca.

In 1910, a young Sicilian named Giuseppe Mario Bellanca imigrated to the United States with dreams of building aircraft in the New World. The first of Bellanca's airplanes was built in 1913 in Brooklyn, New York — the Parasol (so named because of the high wing), designed with the propeller at the front of the aircraft and the tail at the rear. This was considered revolutionary for the time — the Wright brothers and other early aircraft designers positioned the tail at the front and the propellers in the rear — called a pusher configuration.

Bellanca taught himself to fly his 25-horsepower aircraft but most other pilots were afraid to try it — the brave few who did discovered that it flew very well. A year later in 1914, he opened the Bellanca Aeroplane Company and Flying School where many notables learned to fly, including the young Fiorello LaGuardia, who later became an ace in World War I and mayor of New York City.

After World War I ended, Bellanca relocated his operation to Omaha, Nebraska, where he formed the Roos-Bellanca Aircraft Company, with Victor H. Roos and A.H. Fetters, to complete his first high-winged monoplane, building it in the back of a fire station. Known as the C.F., the airplane broke new ground in 1921 by offering passengers the comfort of an enclosed cabin while continuing the tradition of an open cockpit for the pilot.

Bellanca's C.F. was the first aircraft to incorporate struts into the wings to add strength and increase the aircraft's lift. Sporting a 90-horsepower engine and capable of flying at 110 miles per hour (177 kilometers per hour), the C.F. finished first 13 times in four different air meets; unfortunately, the C.F.'s $5,000 selling price was not competitive with the hundreds of cheap surplus World War I aircraft flooding the market and Bellanca soon went broke.

Returning to the East Coast in 1924, Bellanca joined the Wright Aero Corporation of New Jersey as a consultant. Wright was in search of a new aircraft to show off its new J-5 Whirlwind engine; Bellanca filled that need by designing the Wright-Bellanca WB-2 that went on to sweep the 1926 air races.

In spite of the WB-2's racing successes, Wright Aero made a business decision to leave the airplane business and concentrate solely on building engines. Wright sold the WB-2 design to businessman Charles Levine, who partnered with Giuseppe Bellanca to form the Columbia Aircraft Company and in the process, changed the WB-2's designation to Columbia.

In 1927, a Bellanca aircraft, the Miss Columbia, almost beat Charles Lindbergh and his Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic Ocean but for an ironic twist of fate. In May, both the Miss Columbia, which had been built several years before the Spirit of St. Louis, and Lindbergh's plane were positioned at Roosevelt Field in Long Island, New York, ready for the transatlantic attempt. However, a lawsuit filed against Levine had temporarily impounded the Miss Columbia, and the Spirit of St. Louis flew on to Paris and into history.

Just two weeks after Lindbergh's transatlantic flight, the Miss Columbia, with pilot Clarence Chamberlin at the controls and carrying Charles Levine as a passenger, flew non-stop from Roosevelt Field to Eisleben, Germany, in just under 43 hours, establishing a new flight distance record in the process. [The actual goal of the flight was to make the first nonstop New York to berlin flight, but the ran quite short on fuel and landed short of Berling in Eisleben instead.]

The Miss Columbia was soon recognized as a technological marvel — a viable general purpose aircraft instead of an airplane built solely for a contest — and Giuseppe Bellanca landed on the July 4, 1927, cover of Time magazine for his innovative design.

Bellanca parted ways with Levine and went on to form the Bellanca Aircraft Corporation late in 1927, backed by financing from a Delaware consortium. Orders for new aircraft started piling up quicker that they could be filled.

The Bellanca model P-100 Airbus (later renamed the Aircruiser), capable of carrying 14-15 passengers, was introduced in 1930. The following year, pilot George Haldeman flew 4,400 miles (7,081 kilometers) in an Airbus, staying aloft for 35 hours. Only 23 P-100 Aircruisers were built, largely because many in the aviation community were reluctant to buy an aircraft powered by a water-cooled engine.

On of Bellanca's model CH-400 "Skyrocket" airplanes, nicknamed "Miss Veedol", made the first nonstop trans-Pacific flight in 1931. Powered by a 425-horsepower Pratt & Whitney engine, "Miss Veedol", with a crew of two, pilot Clyde Pangborn and navigator/relief-pilot Hugh Herndon, Jr., flew 4,558 miles (7,335 kilometers) from Japan to Wenatchee, Washington, in 41 hours, 15 minutes. The "Miss Veedol" was unique in her configuration, being modified to dispose of the non-retractable landing gear into the western Pacific. This significantly reduced drag and extended the range by many miles.

After an uneventful flight to Seattle the extended range saved the aircraft. Due to poor weather Seattle airport was closed, as were some other airports in Washington, such as the one in Spokane. Pangborn, being a Washington State native, knew that he could land at his hometown Wenachee airport, which he knew was open. Pangborn and Herndon made a successful belly landing there, wrecking the propeller, but it was readily replaced.

Unlike the "Spirit of St. Louis", "Miss Veedol" no longer exists. Pangborn and Herndon had to sell their plane, which was bought by an Italian doctor. During a flight the doctor and "Miss Veedol" disappeared into the Bay of Biscay in the Atlantic ocean without a trace.

For the next 5 years Bellanca airplanes such as the "Skyrocket" established numerous world records for endurance and distance flying. A Bellanca Pathfinder made the third nonstop transatlantic flight, flying from the United States to Spain and then on to Italy.

In May 1931, a Bellanca Pacemaker, powered by an efficient diesel-fueled 225-horsepower Packard engine, remained aloft for 84 hours 32 minutes without refueling — a duration record that would stand for 55 years until surpassed by the around-the-world flight of the Rutan Voyager in 1986. Two months later, another Bellanca Pacemaker named the Cape Cod flew non-stop across the Atlantic to Istanbul, Turkey, establishing a flight distance record of 5,012 miles (8,066 kilometers).

Larger, more reliable air-cooled engines powered the Bellanca model P-200 Airbus. One version of the Airbus, the model P-200-A, was equipped with floats and flew as an “air ferry” in New York City, flying from Wall Street to the East River. The model P-200 Deluxe carried nine passengers in a custom-designed cabin. The 1934 Bellanca Aircruiser, with its distinctive W-shaped bottom wing, is still considered by many to be the most efficient single engine aircraft ever built, capable of carrying 15 passengers or more than 4,000 pounds (1,814 kilograms) of cargo — which is more than the airplane itself weighed empty.

Unfortunately for Bellanca, U.S. government regulations adopted in 1934 banned single-engine commercial aircraft in the United States, effectively ending the Aircruiser's marketability. Bellanca Aircruisers remained popular in Canada where the “Flying W's” were used to transport supplies and ore for the mineral mines, but this market was very limited.

The federal ban on single engine transport planes compelled Bellanca to focus on building smaller aircraft intended for personal travel. In 1936, he designed the low-wing Bellanca 19-9 Junior (later to become the Cruisair Junior)—a three passenger cabin aircraft that was fast, easy to control at low speeds, and capable of taking off and landing at airports with short runways.

In the months leading up to World War II, Bellanca was developing a new Cruisair, the model 14-12, but shelved the project to concentrate on war-related subcontracting work for Fairchild and other defense aircraft firms.

After the war, Bellanca produced the four-seat model 14-13-2, known as the Cruisair Senior, building about five per day. Featuring retractable landing gear that deployed with a manually cranked bicycle chain system, the modestly priced Cruisair Senior delivered exceptional performance with a relatively small engine.

About 600 Cruisair Seniors were manufactured, far fewer than Bellanca had anticipated due to the post-war “bust” in private aircraft sales. But despite the low sales figures, Bellanca continued to produce aircraft until 1951.

Giuseppe Bellanca retired in 1954 when he sold his interest in the company. Northern Aircraft, Inc. and its successors continued to manufacture aircraft under the Bellanca name into the 1990s.

Always trying to build a better airplane, Giuseppe Bellanca was working with son August on a concept for a general aviation aircraft built from composite materials when he died in 1960 at age 74.


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