Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Lawrence 'Larry' Dale Bell 1895-1956

Lawrence Dale Bell was first involved in aviation in 1913 when he worked as a mechanic for two exhibition pilots: his brother, Grover Bell, and Lincoln Beachey. Employed by Glenn Martin in late 1913 as a factory worker, and in mid-1914 he had produced his first aircraft during his off-hours, a Martin tractor converted into a bomber for sale to Mexican rebel Panco Villa. This so impressed Martin that Bell was made superintendent of the new factory.

Bell left Martin in the late '20s to join Consolidated, becoming their Vice-President and General Manager in 1929. When the company was moved to San Diego, he elected to remain in Buffalo and, with several others from Consolidated, to form the Bell Aircraft Co in 1935. Initial work came as subcontracts from other manufacturers, but as Bell's ideas focused more on research and development, the company came into its own. His concept of the Airacuda as a multiplace, cannon-bearing, long-range fighter was quite novel for the time, and was followed by the P-39 Airacobra as a full production plane, for which the company expanded to meet wartime contracts in the US and abroad.

For years Bell had been interested in rotary-wing aircraft, and in 1944 met Arthur M Young, who had devoted many years to helicopter research. Bell set him up in a shop and spent many hours with him developing plans, from which the successful line of Bell helicopters came. And when Bell Company was invited to submit a proposal for a plane to attack the sound barrier, he told his engineers to "throw away the book" and start fresh—in such an experiment he insisted that no prior aircraft design ideas or practices should be allowed to hamper creative imagination. The resulting X-1, the USAF's first rocket-propelled flight research vehicle for NASA, was first to exceed the speed of sound.