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 early December of 1909. The flight was short, but it was a start. 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 specially designed NYP. 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 first flew in 1973.
In 1993, August Bellanca donated his father's personal and professional papers to the National Air and Space Museum Archives. Prior to that time, they were kept in the Bellanca home near Galena, MD, and administered by Dorothy and August Bellanca.
Born in Sciacca, Sicily
Built first airplane. It completed the first flight of an Italian-designed, Italian-built, aircraft on December 8, 1909.
Immigrated to America, settled in Brooklyn, NY.
Completed construction of parasol monoplane. Successfully learned to fly this aircraft at Mineola, Long Island, NY.
1912 - 1916
Taught others to fly the parasol monoplane, including Fiorello LaGuardia.
1917 - 1920
Employed as a consulting engineer for Maryland Pressed Steel Company of Hagerstown, MD. While there, Bellanca designed and built the Bellanca CD and CE tractor biplanes.
1921 - 1922
Moved to Omaha, NE, and with Victor Roos, formed the Roos-Bellanca Aircraft Company. Bellanca designed and built the Bellanca CF.
Married Dorothy Brown on November 18, 1922, in Omaha, NE.
Moved back to New York, and designed and built new sets of wings for the Post Office Department’s DH-4 mailplanes
Employed by the Wright Aeronautical Corporation of Paterson, NJ, designing an aircraft around their new “Whirlwind” engine. The Wright-Bellanca 1, or WB-1, was the result, and was first flown in the latter part of that year.
First flight of the WB-2.
Wright decided not to enter into quantity production of the WB-2. Bellanca entered into a partnership with Charles A. Levine, and together, they formed the Columbia Aircraft Corporation. From Tuesday, April 12 to Thursday, April 14, Clarence Chamberlin and Bert Acosta set a new world’s non-refueled endurance record in the WB-2, which was shortly thereafter, renamed the “Columbia”. On June 4th, the Columbia set off across the Atlantic, and landed in Eisleben, Germany.
Bellanca started the Bellanca Aircraft Corporation of America, on Staten Island, NY.
Bellanca established the Bellanca Aircraft Corporation of New Castle, DE.
1941 - 1943
Head of the aviation department at Higgins Industries, Inc., in New Orleans, designing large cargo aircraft for troop movement during the war.
Formed the Bellanca Development Company, to conduct research in lightweight aircraft construction materials.
Died of leukemia in New York, December 26.