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Rotorcraft Pioneers Part IV, Arthur M. Young - The Genius Behind Bell Helicopters

Posted 13 years 174 days ago ago by Admin

By Brad McNally, Contributing Editor - Arthur Young grew up outside of Philadelphia, PA.  His father was a landscape painter and his mother was also an artist.  As a child he was very interested in science and understanding how things worked but had no specific interest in aviation.  After graduating with a mathematics degree from Princeton in 1927, his curiosity led him in search of a complex problem that he could apply science and math to in the hope of developing a better understanding of the world around him.  He traveled to several large cities and visited their libraries looking for problems that he could use for his endeavor.  On one such visit to Washington, D.C. he found his challenge.  While doing research in the Library of Congress, he came across a book by Anton Flettner called, “TheArthur Young Picture Story of the Rotor.”  Flettner had invented a boat which crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1927 propelled by rotating cylinders, and in the book he detailed a large windmill design with small propellers at the tips of the windmill blades (Spenser, 1998).  Arthur Young began to think about how he could use this blade tip powered windmill concept to propel an aircraft and decided that it might work on a helicopter.  With his problem in hand he returned home determined to devote the next ten to fifteen years to designing a helicopter (Young, 2004). 

Back at his parents’ farm in Radnor, Pennsylvania, Arthur Young converted an old stable into a workshop and began working on a tip powered model helicopter.  It was made of balsa wood, tissue paper and rubber bands and flew for a modest ten seconds in February of 1929 (Spenser, 1998).  He progressed to a model capable of horizontal flight and developed an ingenious system which used ailerons on the rotor blades controlled by a weather vane attached to the hub to control horizontal motion (Young, 2004).  Realizing that he lacked a sufficient understanding of aerodynamics, Arthur Young visited libraries in Pittsburgh, Detroit and Chicago where he conducted more research.  He returned to Pennsylvania and by the end of 1930, he had finished construction on a stand that could test the lifting characteristics of propellers at varying angles of pitch.  In 1931, he constructed an electric tip powered model using a vacuum cleaner motor, which was much more complex than his previous ones.  It had a central shaft that ran to the rotor head and smaller shafts that ran out through the rotor blades to the tips to power the tip propellers.  This design required ball bearings and precision gears, many of which Arthur Young had to make himself.  Although he lacked a formal engineering education, he realized that small models did not accurately describe the stresses that would be present in a full scale helicopter.  In 1933, he built a larger scale model which had a ten foot diameter rotor head that was powered by a twenty horsepower outboard boat engine (Spenser, 1998).  Also in 1933, he married his first wife, Priscilla Page, and in 1936 they moved to a farm house a short distance away in Paoli, Pennsylvania (Young, 2004).  This new house had a lot of land for testing models and a large barn that Arthur Young quickly converted to a new workshop and test space.  He continued testing and refining his tip powered model.  However, the stresses in this model proved to be too much for it to handle.  Several times he redesigned and remanufactured various parts to increase their strength only to have another component fail.  In 1938, the outboard engine powered model was completely destroyed during an overspeed test of the rotor blades. 

Although he had learned a great deal about building models and helicopter flight, Arthur Young was still a long way away from being able to build a working helicopter.  He put his model testing on hold at the end of 1938 to attend the first of three Rotating Wing Aircraft Meetings at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia (Spenser, 1998).  Several presenters at this meeting would greatly influence Arthur Young’s thoughts on helicopter design.  The first was Igor Sikorsky, who made a strong case for the single main rotor and tail rotor configuration.  The second was Haviland Platt, who spoke about the ability of hinged rotor blades to provide helicopter stability by allowing the mast to swing without affecting the blades (Young, 2004).  The hinged rotor blade idea was very interesting to Arthur Young and he came away from the meeting with many new ideas.  In 1939, he decided to abandon larger scale models and the tip powered concept and concentrate on smaller models which were again powered by electric vacuum cleaner motors.  Arthur Young PictureHe began testing both fixed and hinged rotor heads and working on the problem of helicopter stability.  Through these experiments and in less than one year, Arthur Young became a renowned authority on rotor dynamics and was asked to speak at the second Rotating Wing Aircraft Meeting, which was again held in Philadelphia in December of 1939.  At the meeting he presented a paper entitled “A New Parameter of Lifting Rotors,” which gave an overview of his findings and discounted the use of hinges to create stability (Spenser, 1998).  Just a few days after the meeting, Arthur Young had a major breakthrough when he achieved remarkable stability in one of his models by inventing a stabilizer bar later known as a “fly bar.”  This “fly bar” was basically a bar with weighted ends that was set at ninety degrees to the two main rotor blades.  The bar acted like a tight rope walkers pole and cyclically controlled the rotor blades, directing the rotor head to remain in its previous plane of rotation even after encountering destabilizing forces such as wind gusts.  Arthur Young received a patent for the “fly bar”, which he later transferred to Bell Aircraft.  The “fly bar” would play a major role in the success of his later full scale helicopters. 

Within a few months he had a remote control model that exhibited tremendous stability, could hover in place and be flown in and out of the door of his workshop.  A year later, at the third and final Rotating Wing Aircraft Meeting held in New York, Arthur Young gave a presentation which covered all of his research and concluded with a film showing the stability achieved by his model.  He instantly became one of the most highly respected helicopter pioneers of the day and was even publicly congratulated by Igor Sikorsky (Young, 2004).  After the meeting, Arthur Young knew that his next step would be to apply his developments to a full scale aircraft.  He had no desire to start his own company from scratch, but rather began looking for an established aircraft company to work with.  Arthur Young found a less than enthusiastic interest in helicopters from the major fixed wing manufacturers and it would only be by chance that he would come in contact with Larry Bell and the Bell Aircraft Corporation.

            Dr. John Sharpe was a friend of Arthur Young’s who designed aircraft engine parts and asked his advice as to potential manufacturers that might be interested in his design.  Arthur Young was familiar with Bell Aircraft from studying their Airacobra fighter planes and recommended that Dr. Sharpe take his design to them (Young, 2004).  While visiting Bell, Dr. Sharpe mentioned that he had a friend who was building remote controlled helicopters.  This information made it all the way up to Larry Bell and an invitation for Arthur Young to demonstrate his models at the Bell Aircraft Factory ensued.  Arthur Young visited Bell Aircraft in Buffalo, New York on September 3, 1941.  He immediately liked Larry Bell and the two men reached an agreement which had Arthur Young assign his patents to Bell Aircraft in return for Bell funding the development of two full scale helicopter prototypes (Spenser, 1998).  He started working at the Bell factory in November of 1941 and just a few weeks later the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred.  Bell Aircraft became heavily involved in manufacturing fixed wing aircraft for the war effort and very little attention was paid to Arthur Young and his helicopter design effort.  Although this lack of attention was initially discouraging, it may have been a blessing in disguise.  Bell Aircraft had wanted Arthur Young to follow their process which was to make a complete set of detailed drawings and then build the aircraft.  He knew that the helicopter was too new and complex to try and make the drawings and then build the prototype.  Rather it would be much easier to build the prototype, work out the bugs and then make the manufacturing drawings.  Another problem was that his team was scattered throughout the factory, fragmenting their collective effort on the helicopter project.  To solve this second problem Arthur Young located an empty Chrysler dealership in Gardenville, New York, outside Buffalo, and got the Bell management to agree to let him use it.  He relocated his team to Gardenville in the spring of 1942 (Young, 2004).  The Gardenville location had everything he needed, ample open space outside to conduct test flights and room inside for a machine shop, wood shop, drafting room and offices all under one roof. 

With his team in one place and able to communicate directly with each other the helicopter project really took off.  The first of three Bell Model 30 helicopters was completed in December of 1942 and became the third successful American helicopter when it flew untethered on June 26, 1943 (Spenser, 1998).  The third Model 30 prototype combined the best features of its two predecessors.  It so impressed Larry Bell that he gave the go ahead to proceed with a production prototype, which would become the Bell Model 47.  With the war manufacturing of fixed wing aircraft declining and the team from Gardenville outgrowing the old car dealership, Arthur Young and his team moved to the main Bell Plant at the Niagara Falls Airport in the summer of 1945.  The first Bell Model 47 was completed on December 8, 1945.  It had an open frame tail boom and bubble canopy, both of which were design features incorporated by Arthur Young to save weight and provide some relief from the elements for the pilot.  The Model 47 was intended to be a commercial helicopter and as such Larry Bell was anxious to get it certified for production.  The Civil Aeronautics Authority had never certified a helicopter before, so in order to do this they had to create a new Arthur Young Picturecertification process.  On March 8, 1946 the Bell Model 47 received the first commercial license ever awarded to a helicopter.  This was followed by receiving Approved Type Certificate (Helicopter) Number One on May 8, 1946 (Spenser, 1998).

            Despite the fact that the success of the Model 47 was just beginning, Arthur Young left the Bell Aircraft Corporation in October of 1947.  He had accomplished what he had set out to do and that was to use the problem of developing a working helicopter as an opportunity to examine how science and engineering could be combined with the human thought process to conquer complex problems once thought unsolvable.  Arthur Young departed Bell on good terms and continued on in a small role as an occasional advisor to the company, from time to time getting involved in solving problems associated with helicopter flight.  He returned to Pennsylvania and vigorously pursued astrology, cosmology and philosophy and expanded his understanding of both the real and surreal world.  Through these pursuits he eventually developed his Theory of Process, which incorporated widely accepted facts of physical science with psychology, spirituality and consciousness.  In 1951 Arthur Young and his second wife Ruth established the Foundation for the Study of Consciousness.  The goal of the foundation was to build a theoretical, scientific model that is capable of integrating what is known about physical and metaphysical realities (Young, 2004).  After moving to California, the Youngs also founded the Institute for the Study of Consciousness, which was intended to be an educational branch of the Foundation for the Study of Consciousness.  Arthur Young taught, wrote and continued to study and develop connections between the physical and nonphysical sciences up until his death in 1995 at the age of 89.

Over 5,800 military and civilian variants of the Bell Model 47 were produced in a production run that lasted over 27 years and ended in the United States in 1974, although it continued in other countries until the late 1970s (Spencer, 1998).  Not only did this helicopter play a ground breaking role in commercial helicopter operations as the Model 47, but it also would play a monumental role in changing battlefield operations as the U.S. Army’s H-13 Sioux.  The H-13 saved countless lives in the Korean War as it pioneered combat medevac operations and is now well known as the MASH Helicopter from the television show of the same name.  Even after he left Bell Aircraft, Arthur Young’s engineering influence extended well beyond the highly successful Model 47.  The Bell UH-1 Huey and Bell 206 Jet Ranger were introduced in the late 1950s and early 1960s and would become arguably the most popular military and commercial helicopter models ever produced.  Both of these models had design characteristics that could be traced back to Arthur Young and his small team from Gardenville.  In fact several of Young’s early team members continued on with Bell Aircraft for a number of years.  One such person was Bart Kelley, who was a childhood friend of Arthur Young and worked with him on his early model experiments in Pennsylvania and later on the Bell Model 30 project.  Kelley didn’t retire from Bell until 1974 at which time he was the senior vice-president of engineering (Tipton, n.d.).  Arthur Young’s engineering ability combined with Larry Bell’s vision and manufacturing acumen established the Bell Aircraft Corporation as a front runner in the emerging helicopter industry.   In 1974, less than 30 years after the certification of the Model 47, Bell manufactured its 20,000th helicopter (Spenser, 1998).  This was no doubt a credit to the groundwork laid down by Arthur Young, inventor of the first Bell helicopter.

Unique among the approaches of the other early helicopter pioneers was Arthur Young’s decision to experiment exclusively with models prior to building a full scale helicopter.  This was certainly a very tedious and time consuming process made even more difficult by the lack of availability of model engines and flight controls in the 1930s.  However, he believed in making mistakes on a small enough scale that you could learn from them quickly and relatively inexpensively.  His approach paid off and his painstaking efforts not only gained him recognition as an expert in helicopter stability by some of the most prominent helicopter developers of the day, but also allowed him to quickly develop a working full scale helicopter and receive the first ever commercial helicopter certification.  His engineering ability helped establish Bell as a one of the leading helicopter producers in the world, a reputation that it still maintains today.  Arthur Young undoubtedly played a significant role in advancing helicopter development in the 1930s and 1940s and his Model 47 went on to play pivotal roles in shaping both military and commercial rotary wing aviation making him a true Rotorcraft Pioneer.







Young, A. M. (2004).  Nested Time: An Astrological Autobiography. Cambria, CA:



Spenser, J. P. (1998). Whirlybirds: A History of the U.S. Helicopter Pioneers. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press



Tipton, R. S. (n.d.). Arthur Young: Maker of the Bell Parts 1 and 2. Retrieved March 3,

Photographs are courtesy of the Anodos Foundation, for more information about Arthur Young or his books visit