1946: A Significant Advance for Helicopters

March 8, 1946

A major milestone in aviation history took place when the Bell 47 became the world’s first helicopter certified for commercial use. This first-of-a-kind certificate was issued for the Bell 47 by the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA), forerunner to the present-day Federal Aviation Administration.

The Bell 47 was a single-rotor, single-engine light helicopter manufactured by the Bell Aircraft Corporation (now part of Bell Textron, Inc.) at its plant in Buffalo. This model was based upon the Bell 30, a helicopter that had been designed for the company by inventor Arthur M. Young.

The Bell 47 was certified for commercial use only after being extensively subjected to rigorous testing by both Raymond B. Maloy, head of the CAA flight engineering division; and Floyd W. Carlson, the Bell Aircraft Corporation’s chief test pilot. When later recalling CAA’s commercial-use certification of the helicopter that he helped make possible, Young said his emotional reaction on that day was “a feeling like a combination of a bridegroom at a wedding or a father in a maternity ward.”

A similarly high level of enthusiasm and expectations for CAA’s unprecedented action was reflected in a newspaper column written at the time by veteran pilot Gill Robb Wilson, a staunch aviation advocate and one of the founders of the Civil Air Patrol.

“Reaching a milestone of development, the helicopter has joined the ranks of acceptable commercial vehicles,” noted Wilson. “During the initial years while helicopter is working through further development to approach somewhat the use of the automobile, it will be tested on suburban mail routes, as an aerial taxicab, as a sower of grain, a rejuvenator of cranberry bogs, a Coast Guard rescue craft, a shore-to-ship ferry, a pilot boat, a prospector’s and geologist’s instrument, a police vehicle, and in numerous kindred utilities.” Wilson further stated, “In other words, the helicopter, short in range but long on adaptability, fits a greater variety of human requirements than anything in transportation since the automobile.”

The Bell 47 would indeed be widely used throughout the years for commercial purposes. The Bell Aircraft Corporation’s first large-scale civilian delivery of those helicopters was made in December 1946 to Helicopter Air Transport, Inc., in New Jersey.

(The above 2011 photo depicts a Bell 47B helicopter on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia)

Photo Credit: FlugKerl2 (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)

For more information on the Bell 47 helicopter, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell_47

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