By C.B.F. Macauley – Reprinted from Air Trails Magazine, 1944
Using models to develop his ideas, Arthur Young spent 15 years perfecting the helicopter.
Arthur Middleton Young hails from a small town near Philadelphia, which, by odd coincidence, has been the seat of nearly all the rotating-wing development in this country. Until he had finished his studies at Princeton University in 1927, Art had made no plans for his future. If he could be said to have concentrated in any one field, it was mathematics. But after leaving Princeton, he decided to be an inventor.
But the development of his helicopter was no mere hit-or-miss accident. During the year after leaving college, he set out to investigate many fields in which he thought there might be an opportunity for worthwhile independent research. Having sufficient private income, he felt he could afford to spend as long as 10 years in whatever field he chose to conduct his explorations.
Finally, though, he picked the helicopter as the field offering the greatest opportunity for the future. Fortunately for the development of vertical flight, Art Young had plenty of patience. He traveled about the country for a year or so, reading in great, small, obscure libraries all the material available up to that time on the helicopter and other forms of rotating wing development. His intellectual curiosity, coupled with untiring research and experimentation, resulted, after 15 years, in the completion of “Lady Genevieve,” Bell’s first helicopter.
It was a long road, however, with many false starts, detours and heart-breaking disappointment between the initial enthusiasm and the first successful flight of the full-scale helicopter.
In an old stable on his parents’ place in Pennsylvania, Young set up an experimental shop and laboratory. There he gathered the machinery and tools he would need to build a model of his projected helicopter. During the next eight years, constantly studying and experimenting, he gradually built the first model. It was larger than he had anticipated and the amount of work involved was greater than he had expected. In the early stages, he worked on the principle of using auxiliary rotors to pull the main rotor blades around.
In 1938, an important change came about in the line of thought Young was pursuing. He abandoned the auxiliary rotor principle in favor of a design whereby power from the engine went directly to the main rotor. At the same time, he decided to work with smaller models.
Most important, however, was his discovery at this time that more consideration must be given the problem of stability, regardless of what type of helicopter was being designed. Accordingly, for the next two years he worked on the problem of achieving stability. By 1940, he had reached a basic solution, and the principle of operation of his helicopter was in substantially its present form.
It’s interesting to note that in his early work, unlike many secretive inventors, Art Young welcomed the local youths who were curious about his experiments. Instead of chasing them away, he encouraged them to come in and help.
“If I needed copper wire or parts from a junkyard,” said Art, “the boys would see that my requirements were met. If I wanted to work late they would get food. We used to cook chops with an acetylene torch. We made coffee by coiling a few turns of wire that was dipped into the coffee and connected across the 110-volt light circuit.”
All during the years, Young built countless models. Some were powered by rubber bands. Others were powered with electric motors. One model he worked on for awhile used a 20-hp outboard motor. He even constructed an improvised wind tunnel capable of a blast of air of about 30 miles per hour, supplied by a 5-hp motor, fan and honeycomb.
At one point he became interested in the comparative advantages of the hinged and rigid blades and decided to find out which were more practical. So he built a model that was equipped with wobble plates (for control) and feathering blades, with flexible shafts to shift the wobble plate mechanism while in operation. This device provided an interesting contrast of the two rotor systems-fixed blade and hinged blade-and indicated that better results could be had from the hinged-blade system.
But he found that as soon as the model lifted itself off the ground it tipped over. He made more flights and finally came to the conclusion that not only was his model unstable, but that all helicopters were unstable. In his next experiment he took his first major step toward solving the stability puzzle!
Seven models later he succeeded in establishing stability. Now, it was comparatively easy to make a remote-control model. From that the final model was built. This one had the characteristics of a full-scale helicopter. Development of this model involved the use of a satisfactory landing gear, suitable fuselage, direction gyro, portable control box and cable. Flight with this model was so successful that Art decided the time had come to build a full-sized helicopter.
Young was face to face with the problem of nearly every inventor. Financial assistance was needed. It was just about this time that his work came to the attention of Laurence D. Bell, president of Bell Aircraft. The inventor was offered the opportunity of using Bell’s engineering and manufacturing facilities. On Nov. 1, 1941, Young became head of Bell’s new helicopter unit. At this time he was joined by Bartram Kelley, who had worked with him at the very start of his experimental career. Space was allocated and a group of engineers was assigned to the new project.
One year later, the full-scale model was moved out into the fenced enclosure by the Gardenville building and christened Lady Genevieve. About a week later, hops of a few inches off the ground were made and on December 29, Lady Genevieve, with Art at the controls, lifted six feet and hovered at that height.
Art Young’s 15-year pursuit of an idea had been justified. He had succeeded in building a helicopter that was able to fly and maintain its stability. The job from there on was one of improvement and perfection.
Today, the two Bell helicopters housed at the Gardenville plant are being used for continuous experimentation and modification in anticipation of the day when assembly lines will build this new type of aircraft for peaceful pursuits instead of the Kingcobras and Airacomets now rolling off the production lines.
It’s only fair to point out that the helicopter is not yet ready for the public. Yet, there is evidence that the remaining obstacles are being overcome fast enough to insure a reasonably fool-proof helicopter for conscientious pioneering private owners within a couple of years. Commercial applications of the helicopter will begin almost as soon as the war is ended. Numerous companies are at work on 10- and 12-passenger and even larger designs. Bus and taxicab operators are getting ready to inaugurate services just as soon as they can obtain the helicopters.
Larry Bell, Art Young, Bart Kelley, Floyd Carlson and their associates, all share this conviction: the helicopter very soon will achieve the efficiency, safety, comfort and reliability that will enable it to perform many useful services that cannot be rendered by any existing form of transportation.
Thanks to a man with an idea.