|Giuseppe Mario Bellanca (or GM) immigrated from Italy in 1911 and continued his passion for aircraft design here in the United States. His aircraft achieved numerous endurance and efficiency records, and his plane Columbia (shown below) was Charles Lindbergh’s first choice for a Trans-Atlantic crossing. Lindbergh was unable to secure the plane, but 2 weeks after that first Trans-Atlantic flightColumbia was flown non-stop from New York to Berlin (3,911 miles). In 1931, Bellanca’s Miss Veedol was the first plane to fly non-stop across the Pacific from Japan to Washington State (4,500 miles, shown below).In 1928, Bellanca and Henry B. duPont built an airfield, aircraft plant, and service hangar in New Castle, Delaware. Located off Route 273 near the Delaware River, the plant produced approximately 3000 aircraft before closing in 1954.
FoBA volunteers are restoring the 1935 Bellanca Airfield service hangar, owned by the Trustees of The New Castle Common. Interested individuals may contact FOBA by email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or membership data. Friends of Bellanca Airfield, Inc. (FoBA), is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving the history of the Bellanca airfield and aircraft manufacturing in New Castle, Delaware. Please: become a member!
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 production.
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 1927.
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.
In 1993, 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