Royal Reels: Gambling


The Airmail cover has 9 definitive Australian stamps with a total postage of 1 shilling 7 pence which are postmarked 3-AIRMAIL 3/ 1 30P 17 JA 39/ SYDNEY N.S.W. It is addressed to Mr. G. Bellanca, Bellanca Aircraft Corp., Newcastle, Delaware, U.S.A. (Figure 1).

The reverse has no postmarks but has a blue circled Map of Australia with a printed ‘The Australia Hotel’ on the flap (Figure 2).

Giuseppe Mario Bellanca was born in 1886 in Sciacca, Sicily, and he attended the Technical Institute in Milan, graduating with a degree in mathematics in 1908. He became enamoured of aviation, and set out to design and build his own airplane. Bellanca’s first aircraft design was 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 built aircraft in December of 1909. The flight was short, but it was a start.

At the urging of his brother Carlo, who was in Brooklyn, N Y, he immigrated to America in 1911, and he began construction of his next airplane design, a parasol monoplane. He took the craft to Mineola Field on Long Island, NY, and proceeded taught himself to fly. He began by taxiing and on May 19, 1912, there was not enough room to land straight ahead, so 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 1917 the Maryland Pressed Steel Company of Hagerstown, MD hired Bellanca as a consulting engineer. He designed two trainer biplanes, the CD, and an improved CE. The company entered into receivership, and the CE never went into production. In 1921, investors lured Bellanca 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 Bellanca CF, 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 and they were married on November 18, 1922.

Despite its advanced design, the Bellanca CF, at $5000.00, was just too expensive and it 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, and at the time of a crash, Bellanca was already working on an improved version, the WB-2. During 1926, the it won two efficiency trophies at the National Air Races in Philadelphia. Wright considered putting it into production, but decided against it to avoid alienating other aircraft companies that were potential customers for their engines. 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, and Charles Levine, who became the first transatlantic passenger. The plan was to fly 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.

Bellanca severed relations with Levine, started his own company, the Bellanca Aircraft Corporation of America, and rented facilities on Staten Island, NY. The model was designated the CH, and Bellanca caught the attention of the Du Ponts of Delaware. They wanted to start aircraft manufacture in Delaware, and in 1927, an agreement was made to locate his factory outside of Wilmington. The site was large enough for a first-class airfield, with a seaplane ramp on the Delaware. This was a busy time in Bellanca’s life, and he and Dorothy celebrated the birth of a son August T. Bellanca in March of 1927. Giuseppe Bellanca is seen in Figure 3.

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 was progressing when Bellanca succumbed to leukemia on December 26, 1960. August continued the project, and under his guidance, the aircraft first flew in 1973. The Bellanca Citabria 7ECA was manufactured in 1980 and is seen in Figure 4.

I acknowledge that I have abbreviated David Schwartz’s paper at the Smithsonian Institution, 2000, and the picture of Giuseppe Bellanca is from the same excellent source.

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