Lawrence Bell

Image used with permission from the National Aviation Hall of Fame

Lawrence Bell

Born in Mentone, Indiana in 1894, Lawrence Dale “Larry” Bell began his aviation career in 1912 as an airplane mechanic for his brother, Grover, and aerobatic pilot Lincoln Beachey. Though his brother was killed in a plane crash in 1913, Bell remained in aviation joining the Glenn L. Martin Company. 

Bell left Martin in 1928 and joined the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation. When Consolidated moved to California in 1935, Larry chose to remain in Buffalo to form Bell Aircraft Corporation to develop advanced military aircraft. Among the famous, early Bell-manufactured piston-powered fighters were the P-39 Airacobra fighter and the P-63 Kingcobra.

In 1941, Bell signed a top-secret contract with the U.S. War Department to develop a jet-powered fighter aircraft for the U.S. military. American aviation entered a new era of jet-powered aviation less than a year later when the Bell P-59 Airacomet first flew. Bell’s contributions to the war effort included not only advancing jet fighter technology with the P-59, but also by building B-29 Superfortress bombers under license from Boeing.  He also developed the XP-77 interceptor, the XP-83 twin-jet fighter, aircraft gun mounts and radar-controlled remote flight systems.  

The Bell Aircraft name was to become synonymous with speed and cutting-edge aerodynamics.  On October 14, 1947 Chuck Yeager became the first man to break the sound barrier in the rocket-powered Bell X-1. For this historic achievement, Larry Bell shared the 1947 Collier Trophy with Capt. Yeager.

Bell’s quest for speed, and eventually, space continued with the modified X-1A exceeding Mach 2.5 and the Bell X-2 “Starbuster” reaching Mach 2.87—or more than 1,900 MPH.

Larry’s speed quest was equaled by his efforts to design and manufacture helicopters. In 1943, the company produced the B-30 as the world’s first commercial helicopter. That design served as the test bed for the widely used, iconic Bell-47 Sioux, which was followed by the iconic UH-1N “Huey” Iroquois and the ubiquitous Jet Ranger-series helicopters.

For his achievements, Larry Bell received the Daniel Guggenheim Medal and was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1977, the Army Aviation Hall of Fame in 1986, and International Aerospace Hall of Fame in 2004.

For his extraordinary achievement and service to aviation, Indiana, the nation and the world, Lawrence “Larry” Bell is inducted into the Indiana Aviation Hall of Fame the 8th day of July 2020.