June 2019

Bell Model 30 “Genevieve”

First flight: June 26, 1943, Gardenville, New York; Pilot: Floyd Carlson

Using the former Union Garage on Union Road just north of the hamlet of Gardenville as their headquarters, Art Young, the chief designer; Bart Kelley, the chief engineer; Floyd Carlson, the chief test pilot; along with other Bell Aircraft employees; designed, built and flew the first three of what would become thousands of Bell helicopters. The Gardenville group, never more than 30 to 35 members at any given time, could have been a prototype for the modern day concept of a “skunk works.” Inventing and flight demonstrating the Bell Model 30 between June 1942 and June 1945 resulted in the design of a production helicopter, the Bell Model 47, which on May 8, 1946 became the first in the world to receive civil certification.

The photo shows one of the first flights of the Bell Model 30 being flown by Floyd Carlson. The four long metal legs (“spider” landing gear) were initially attached to the prototype helicopter to prevent it from inadvertently turning over while hovering. Both Arthur Young and Floyd Carlson were learning to fly the machine as the testing progressed from tethered flight and brief hovers.

Arthur Young had christened Model 30, Ship 1, “Genevieve,” which was named after his sixth test model. Genevieve was powered by a Franklin 160 hp (120 kW) vertically mounted air-cooled engine. The main rotor was 32 ft (9.8 m) in diameter and constructed of wood. Flight testing continued through the summer of 1943 with Carlson eventually achieving speeds of over 70 mph (112 km/h).

Autorotation testing began on Sep. 2, 1943. The first two attempts proved successful, but on the third attempt, the helicopter touched down heavily on the tail wheel. The tail boom broke off after striking the main rotor. Carlson was unhurt, except for his pride. Model 30, Ship No. 1, was completely rebuilt after the accident and designated Ship No. 1A. It started flight testing in the spring of 1944 with a second Model 30, Ship No. 2.

On June 24, 1945, the small team left Gardenville to return permanently to the Bell Aircraft facility in Niagara Falls, 20 miles (32 km) to the north, unaware at the time that they had changed the course of aviation forever.

Genevieve is currently on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

Note: The “Gardenville” site, actually located in the Town of Cheektowaga, New York, was recognized as the third VFS Vertical Flight Heritage Site.

Main photo: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Text: Paul Fardink

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