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Unknown Stories of WNY: Birth of the Helicopter | News

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Unknown Stories of WNY: Birth of the Helicopter
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CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y.- Helicopters are used in a wide variety of ways all over the world. But whether it is a Mercy Flight saving a life, or a sightseeing flight delivering a thrilling experience, it all comes back to The Gardenville Project, and a vacant car lot in Cheektowaga.

In 1941, a man from just outside Philadelphia named Arthur Young came to Buffalo with an idea. Young had been experimenting with prototypes of a rotary flying machine. He had patented a stabilizer bar which gave his small-scale models the control they needed for demonstrations at Bell Aircraft Corporation.

This was two years after Igor Sikorsky made his first flight in his early helicopter the VS-300 in Connecticut. Sikorsky is considered the first man to fly in a single rotor helicopter, and his R-4 design became the first mass-produced helicopter in 1942.

There were also various designs being researched and tested in Europe through the 30's, but controllability continued to be an issue in those early years, which is why Bell was attracted to Arthur Young's stabilizer bar invention.

Larry Bell, the founder, liked what he saw and he commissioned Young to build two full-scale copters. One of them with one seat to carry a pilot, the second with a passenger seat, to carry Bell.

The Bell plants were already in full production in the pre- World War II months producing P-39 fighter planes, so they needed an out of the way alternative location. They chose the old Union Car Lot at Union & Losson in Cheektowaga. It was in a remote location and had a high fence surrounding it, so the project could be done in relative secrecy. Because of its proximity to the Hamlet of Gardenville, it was called "The Gardenville Project".

Test pilot Floyd Carlson helped Young work out the kinks, until they had the Bell Model 30 ready for its premiere. When Bell was ready to show his new flying machine off in public, he did it in a big way. Bell flew the helicopter inside the Buffalo Armory before Civil Air Patrol cadets,  then took it to the public in a big way. He flew it into Municipal Stadium, the "Old Rockpile". 72,000 people watched in amazement as Carlson hovered the craft (or at least its nose cone)right into the outstretched hand of Arthur Young.

Bell's design was the first to receive official certification from the U.S. Civil Aeronautics Administration.

Advancements followed and within a decade, the helicopter was widely used. In fact it is credited with saving as many as 50,000 lives transporting injured soldiers to M.A.S.H. units in the Korean War. The choppers often featured in the M.A.S.H. television show and movie are Bell 47's

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