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Curtiss-Bleecker Helicopter on the runway at Curtiss Wright in Garden City, N.Y.

The Curtiss-Bleecker Helicopter, shown in 1930 at the Curtiss-Wright R&D facility in Garden Grove, Long Island, N.Y. Designer Maitland Bleecker stands with his aircraft. (Photo from the Paul S. Maynard archive)

The 1926 Curtiss-Bleecker Helicopter was an American prototype rotary wing aircraft that just didn’t fly, at least long enough for production

BY MARK MAYNARD

Looking like an escapee from a “Mad Max” movie, the Curtiss-Bleecker Helicopter was an American prototype rotary wing aircraft that was introduced in 1926, according to its page in Wikipedia.

Maitland B. Bleecker, a junior engineer from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, designed the Curtiss-Bleecker Helicopter. Curtiss Wright constructed the two-seat aircraft for $250,000 over four years at it development facility in Garden City, Long Island, N.Y.

The aircraft featured a rotary wing design with a single engine. Each rotor, painted silver and yellow, had an individual propeller for thrust. Thrust was distributed from the centrally mounted engine through shafts to propellers mounted on each rotor blade.

A trailing control surface called a “stabovator” changes the pitch of the rotor. The aircraft was controlled by a stick that operated like a modern helicopter collective control. Yaw was controlled with a “Spin Vane” that used downwash from the rotor to pivot the aircraft with foot pedals.

The aircraft’s first flight was in 1926. However, testing on the Bleecker Helicopter was stopped after the failure of a drive shaft on a test flight in 1929. By 1933 the project was abandoned following vibrational issues in further tests.

The Garden City Curtiss-Wright plant closed in 1932 during the depression. Some machines were moved to Buffalo, N.Y. Others remained at Garden City and were sold off from time to time, up to 1935 or 1936, according to a legal case filed by Garden City.

Maitland Bleecker was 99 when he died on Oct. 19, 2002.

CURTISS-BLEECKER HELICOPTER SPECIFICATIONS

Seats: 2

Wing area of rotor blades: 370 sq. ft.

Empty weight: 2,800 pounds

Gross weight: 3,400 pounds

Fuel capacity: 30 U.S. gallons

Powerplant: 1 420-hp Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial piston

PERFORMANCE

Maximum speed: 70 mph

Rate of climb: 1,000 ft/min