AHS Recognizes "Gardenville" as Vertical Flight Heritage Site

Gardenville plaque The Bell Helicopter "Gardenville" Site in Cheektowaga, New York was the site of Bell’s initial helicopter developments, including construction and first flights of the three Model 30 prototypes, which would lead to the Bell Model 47s and 70 years to date of helicopter production. On Thursday, June 25, 2015, AHS International unveiled a marker at the location of the development of Bell Aircraft's first helicopter prototypes in Cheektowaga, New York. The site's selection had been previously announced as the third AHS International Vertical Flight Heritage Site.

In the former Union Garage located on Union Road north of the Hamlet of Gardenville, Art Young, Bart Kelley, Floyd Carlson and a small group of other Bell Aircraft employees designed, built, and flew the first three Bell helicopters. The Model 30 that they created and flight demonstrated between June 1942 and their return to the main Bell plant in June 1945 resulted in a production design, the Bell Model 47. On May 8, 1946, the Model 47 became the first helicopter in the world to receive civil certification. More than 6,000 Bell Model 47s were built before production ended in 1973 and more than 1,000 are still flying today. The Model 47 was the cornerstone of the development of the civil helicopter industry, not only training the pilots to fly them, but being used for a myriad of applications from crop dusting to traffic reporting. It is perhaps best known as the iconic MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) helicopter, ferrying wounded soldiers directly from the front lines to nearby field hospitals, saving thousands of lives during the Korean War. More details on the "Gardenville" site can be found in the backgrounder

The Vertical Flight Heritage Sites program is intended to recognize and help preserve locations with the most noteworthy and significant contributions made in both the theory and practice of helicopter and other VTOL aircraft technology. 

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Plaque at Niagara Aerospace MuseumThe formal dedication ceremony for the AHS International Vertical Heritage Site plaque was held at the Niagara Aerospace Museum on Wednesday, June 24, 70 years to the day when the Group departed the Gardenville site, having completed their work, and returned to the Bell Aircraft facility in Niagara Falls. Their 3-year effort – June 1942 to June 1945 – is recognized as the birth of the Bell helicopter. 

A reception was hosted by Bell Helicopter and the museum provided tours and discussions of the Bell Model 47 helicopters on display, including Larry Bell’s personal aircraft. Hugh Neeson, Museum Development Director and last Vice-President of Bell Aerospace, provided the Bell Helicopter connection between Cheektowaga, Buffalo and Niagara, and from the past to the present.

John Garrison, President and CEO of Bell Helicopter (and immediate past AHS Chair of the Board), talked about the significance of the accomplishments at Gardenville, and how it continues to inspire Bell Helicopter today. Mike Hirschberg provided remarks on the Vertical Heritage Sites Program and officially dedicated the plaque, which was then unveiled by Garrison and Hirschberg.

Afterwards, author Tommy Thomason (and original nominator of the site for the AHS award), as well as Todd Carlson and Parrish Kelley, the sons of the pioneers, each provided their perspectives on the magic of Gardenville, which was more than just a place, it represented a spirit of innovation that remained with Bell Helicopter for decades.


Cheektowaga plaque unveiling The ceremony was followed by the on-site installation and dedication of the plaque the next morning, June 25, in Cheektowaga, New York.

Mike Hirschberg (AHS) was the Master of Ceremonies and summarized the historical significance of Gardenville, “hallowed ground”. Mary Holtz, Town of Cheektowaga Supervisor & Town Historian provided a perspective on the history of the area and the aerospace contributions of Western New York. Hugh Neeson, past Vice President, Bell Aerospace, amplified the message. Hirschberg and Holtz then unveiled the plaque, mounted on a sturdy pole.

This was followed by comments by Parrish Kelley, who compared the site to Kill Devil Hills where the Wright Brothers first flew their airplane. Kelley urged that a similar monument be built in Gardenville.

Exact location of the plaque: 

Updated Sep 9, 2015