VFS Recognizes Bell Fort Worth as Historic Site

Bell Ft. Worth Heritage Site ceremony (jpg);

From left: Bedford Mayor Jim Griffin; Hurst Mayor Henry Wilson; Ft Worth Mayor Betsy Price; Bell EVP Robert Hastings;
Bell VP and VFS President Glenn Isbell; and VFS Executive Director Mike Hirschberg. (Bell photo)


Bell Fort Worth Plaque (jpg)In a ceremony on Dec. 18, 2018, the Vertical Flight Society officially designated Bell's Plant 1 and Plant 2, located in Fort Worth, Texas, as a Vertical Flight Heritage Site. Bell’s facilities were the first factory in the world specifically designed and built to manufacture helicopters.

The Vertical Flight Society was founded in 1943 by the pioneers of the American helicopter industry as the American Helicopter Society. Sikorsky, Bell and Piasecki were all flying their first prototype aircraft at the time, and they recognized the need for an organization to bring the community together to work to advance vertical flight.

The VFS is the world’s oldest and largest society dedicated to advancing vertical flight technology. The Society’s Vertical Flight Heritage Sites Program recognizes and helps preserve the important vertical flight historical sites around the world. 

Bell’s Fort Worth Headquarters is the second Bell facility to be designated as a Vertical Heritage Site. In 2015, Bell’s “Gardenville” Site in Cheektowaga, New York was officially dedicated.

Bell's Headquarters

For nearly 70 years, Bell's Fort Worth headquarters campus has been the source of the most iconic, reliable, enduring and recognizable helicopters in the history of the art of vertical flight. Generations of helicopter and tilt rotors have been conceived, designed and built in its facilities. Today, a new generation of rotorcraft is replacing a long venerable line of enduring designs that have had a huge impact on the lives and careers of thousands of civilian operators and military personnel.

From 1946 to 1951, the Bell Aircraft Company built a total of 338 helicopters in its New York plants. But after Bell won a competition to build Navy anti-submarine helicopters (the Bell HSL-1) in 1950, Larry Bell decided to separate the helicopter activities from airplane manufacturing in Buffalo, New York. He wanted to give the rotary-wing division more room to develop a variety of models. In 1950, the United States was newly engaged in the Korean War and Bell continued to receive increased military orders. He did not stop production while looking for a new site for a helicopter-only plant.

Bell decided to move his helicopter operations out of Buffalo to Fort Worth for several reasons. He began to see friction between the airplane and helicopter operations and knew he needed to separate them. Bell explained his reasons for the move to his Board of Directors by saying, “I want an organization that thinks helicopters morning, noon and night…we have a great variety of projects in Buffalo. The staff doesn’t have time to give more than a lick and a promise to the helicopter.” And, Bell needed room to expand. He had also experienced a long strike in New York in 1949 and wanted to move where labor was plentiful with less likelihood of problems. Fort Worth’s good weather and friendly reception from business leaders also proved very attractive.

Larry Bell along with company and Fort Worth dignitaries broke ground for the new plant on May 21, 1951. An audience of 300 military and business leaders stood in a weed covered pasture to watch the ceremonies where a $3.5M dollar plant would be built on the 55 acre (22 hectare) site. What emerged on that land was the first factory in the world specifically designed to manufacture helicopters. Amazingly, the land was purchased in March 1951 and production started 9 months later on Jan 2, 1952 for HSL.

Employment at the plant by the end of 1952 had grown to 2,600 employees; up from 259 at the beginning of the year. During 1952, the Hurst Plant manufactured more rotary-wing aircraft than any other company; 416 helicopters rolled off the assembly line. In December alone, 67 helicopters were delivered. Within the coming decade, the plant spent a quarter of a billion dollars in wages and purchases and boasted the second largest payroll in Tarrant County. The company then bought more land and expanded. 

It is estimated that during the Korean War (1950-1953), 80% of all frontline medical evacuations, about 15,000 troops, took place with Bell Model 47 helicopters.

The UH-1 Huey became the first turbine-powered helicopter to enter production for the U.S. military. Full production began in 1959 and by 1966, Bell produced more than 90% of all helicopters flown by U.S. forces in Vietnam and October 1, 1966, marked the 120th consecutive month of on-schedule deliveries of UH-1 Huey helicopters to the U.S. government. Hurst production workers were completing a brand-new helicopter every two hours. A year later, on November 8, 1967, Bell Helicopter officials, in a brief ceremony, presented the U.S. Army with the 5,000th production Huey.

Bell has today produced more than 35,000 rotorcraft, with most of them having been produced or at least designed and developed in Ft. Worth. 

A new headquarters building was inaugurated in 2014 that reflects the high-tech products that Bell continues to engineer today for military and civil customers for the future. 

Heritage Site Dedication

The Bell Forth Worth facilities were as the eighth Vertical Flight Heritage Site in March 2017, and was recognized at the Forum 73 Grand Awards Banquet in May 2017. During the ceremony on Dec. 18, 2018, accolades and comments were provided by the mayors of Ft. Worth and nearby Hurst and Bedford, Texas, as well as VFS Executive Director Mike Hirschberg and Bell's Executive Vice President, Strategic Communications and Government Affairs, Robert Hastings. In the Bell media release announcing the ceremony, Hastings stated, "Bell has conceived, designed, built and tested the most advanced aircraft in the history of vertical flight. This is an incredible achievement and honor for Bell and today, we celebrate the contributions to vertical flight made by both current and former Bell employees.”

The site is marked by the 35 lb (16 kg) forged-bronze Vertical Flight Heritage Site plaque donated by VFS. The plaque reads: 

Vertical Flight Heritage Site

Bell Fort Worth Facilities


In 1951, Bell broke ground here for the first factory in the world specifically designed and built to manufacture helicopters. Since then, generations of iconic helicopters and tiltrotors have been conceived, designed and built at its facilities here. Growing from humble beginnings as a remote outpost into today's global headquarters, Bell’s Fort Worth engineering and production facilities are responsible for more than 35,000 Bell rotorcraft that have been delivered worldwide to date.

December 2018


 Posted: 2019-01-02