GIUSEPPE MARIO "GM" BELLANCA 1886 - 1960
THE AVIATION GENIUS THE
DU PONT FAMILY ENTICED TO
DELAWARE MADE 3,000 AIRPLANES - AND AVIATION HISTORY!
List of Bellanca Achievements
Giuseppe Mario Bellanca was born in 1886 in Sciacca, Sicily. As a young
man, he attended the Technical Institute in Milan, graduating with a
teaching degree in mathematics in 1908. During his quest for a second
mathematics and engineering degree, he became enamoured of aviation, and
set out to design and build his own airplane. Bellanca's first aircraft
design was a "pusher" aircraft, somewhat similar to the Wright Flyer.
Lacking funds for such an endeavor, he joined with two partners, Enea
Bossi, and Paolo Invernizzi. The union of the three produced the first
flight of a totally Italian-designed and Italian-built aircraft in
December of 1909. Bellanca's second design, was a tractor-type aircraft.
Although the aircraft was successfully constructed, it was never flown
due to insufficient funds for an engine.
At the urging of his
brother Carlo, who was already established in Brooklyn, New York,
Giuseppe Bellanca immigrated to America in 1911. Before the end of the
year, he began construction of his third airplane design, a parasol
monoplane. After construction was completed, he took the small craft to
Mineola Field on Long Island, NY, and proceeded to teach himself to fly.
He began by taxiing. He then, taxied faster, which gave way to short
hops. The hops got longer, until, on May 19, 1912, there was not enough
room to land straight ahead, and Bellanca had to complete a turn in
order land safely. Having successfully taught himself to fly, Bellanca
then set about teaching others to fly, and from 1912 to 1916, he
operated the Bellanca Flying School. One of his students was a young
Fiorello La Guardia, the future mayor of New York City. In return for
flying lessons, La Guardia taught Bellanca how to drive a car.
In 1917 the Maryland Pressed Steel Company of Hagerstown, MD hired
Bellanca as a consulting engineer. While there, he designed two trainer
biplanes, the CD, and an improved version, the CE. With the conclusion
of WWI, Maryland Pressed Steel's contracts were cancelled and the
company entered into receivership. Thus, the CE never went into
In 1921, a group of investors lured Bellanca
westward to Omaha, NE, in hopes of establishing that town as a center
for aircraft manufacture. Before the aircraft could be built, the
company went bankrupt, but construction of the aircraft continued under
the financial backing of a local motorcycle dealer named Victor Roos.
The resultant aircraft, the Bellanca CF, was called by Janes's All the
World's Aircraft "the first up-to-date transport aeroplane that was
designed, built, and flown with success in the United States." Among the
local people helping to build the aircraft was the daughter of
Bellanca's landlord, Dorothy Brown. Giuseppe and she were married on
November 18, 1922.
Despite its advanced design, the Bellanca CF
could not compete with the economics of the time. In the days just after
World War I, a surplus Curtiss Jenny could be purchased for as little as
$250.00. A Bellanca CF, with a price tag of $5000.00, was just too
expensive and the aircraft never went into production. After the
disappointment of the CF, Bellanca designed wings for the Post Office
Department's DH-4's. His new wings were a tremendous improvement over
the original design, but only a few aircraft were so modified.
In 1925, Bellanca went to work for the Wright Aeronautical Corporation
of Paterson, NJ. His assignment there was to develop an aircraft around
the new Wright Whirlwind engine. He already had a design in mind, which
was an improved version of the CF, called the CG. This design evolved
into the Wright-Bellanca WB-1.
The WB-1 enjoyed a short, but
successful flying career. The aircraft had already won one race and
efficiency contest before an untimely accident destroyed the craft
during preparation for an attempt to break the world's non-refueled
endurance record. Fortunately, at the time of the crash, Bellanca was
already working on an improved version, of the WB-1 designated the WB-2.
During 1926, the WB-2 won two efficiency trophies at the
National Air Races in Philadelphia. Wright considered putting the
aircraft into production, but decided against it to avoid alienating
other aircraft companies that were potential customers for their
engines. Disappointed by Wright's decision, Bellanca left the company
and joined with a young businessman named Charles Levine to form the
Columbia Aircraft Company. Wright sold the WB-2 and all drawings and
production rights to the new company. The WB-2 went on to a long and
fruitful flying career starting with establishing a new world's
non-refueled endurance record of 51 hours, 11 minutes, and 59 seconds in
April of 1927.
In the latter half of 1926, Charles Lindbergh
wanted to buy the WB-2, now named the 'Columbia', for his proposed
flight from New York to Paris. He was rebuffed by Levine who also had
designs on the flight and the $25,000 prize money. Lindbergh then went
to Ryan for his “Spirit of St. Louis”. Meanwhile Levine, in choosing the
crew, managed to promise two seats to three people. So while the
Columbia was grounded by a court order brought by the third party,
Lindbergh took off on his successful flight to Paris.
Eventually, the 'Columbia' was cleared of litigation and took off on its
successful transatlantic flight on June 4, 1927. In the cockpit were
Clarence Chamberlin, one of the pilots of the endurance record and
Charles Levine, who became the first transatlantic passenger. The plan
was to fly all the way to Berlin, and Chamberlin had vowed to fly until
they ran out of fuel. Forty-three hours later, they landed in Eisleben,
Germany, the first of two successful Atlantic crossings for Bellanca's
most famous aircraft.
Disappointed because the 'Columbia' was
not the first aircraft to accomplish the New York to Paris flight,
Bellanca severed all relations with Levine, and started his own company,
the Bellanca Aircraft Corporation of America, and rented facilities on
Staten Island, NY. The new Bellanca model was designated the CH, and was
basically a commercial version of the WB-2. The new company also had two
other models that were built for special orders, the Bellanca Model J
and the Model K.
It was not long before Bellanca caught the
attention of the Du Pont family of Delaware. They wanted to start
aircraft manufacturing in Delaware, and in late 1927, an agreement was
made with Bellanca to locate his factory outside of Wilmington. The site
was large enough for a first-class airfield, with a seaplane ramp on the
nearby Delaware River.
This was a busy time in Bellanca's life.
Along with all that was happening in his professional life, he and
Dorothy celebrated the birth of their son August T. Bellanca in March of
With the exception of a few years immediately before and
during the early stages of WWII, Bellanca was President and Chairman of
the Board from the corporation's inception on the last day of 1927 until
he sold the company to L. Albert and Sons in 1954. After his departure
from the company, Giuseppe and his son, August, formed the Bellanca
Development Company with the purpose of building a new aircraft. It
would have increased performance due to the use of lighter materials for
its structure. Work on this aircraft was progressing when Giuseppe
Bellanca succumbed to leukemia and died on December 26, 1960. After his
father's death, August continued the project, and under his guidance,
the aircraft, a record breaker, first flew in 1973.
August Bellanca donated his father’s 1920 CF to the Smithsonian along
with many personal and corporate papers and correspondence. NASA
craftsmen restored the aircraft and it is on display at the Smithsonian
Air & Space Museum’s new Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington’s
Dulles International Airport. The far-sighted, innovative designer and
builder of American aircraft, Giuseppe M. Bellanca was enshrined in the
National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1993, the Delaware Aviation Hall of
Fame in 1999.
Compiled by Friends Of Bellanca Airfield, Inc.
Sources: Delaware Aviation History, Geo J Frebert
World Encyclopedia of Civil Aircraft, Enzio Angelucci
National Aviation Hall of Fame, Aviation History Magazine
Smithsonian / NASA. Golden Age of Bellanca, Al Abel