More than three thousand Bell-47D1 helicopters were made in the United States and sold in forty countries between 1946 and 1973, when production ceased. While the Bell-47D1 is a straightforward utilitarian craft, its designer, Young, who was also a poet and a painter, consciously juxtaposed its transparent plastic bubble with the open structure of its tail boom to create an object whose delicate beauty is inseparable from its efficiency. That the plastic bubble is made in one piece rather than in sections joined by metal seams sets the Bell-47D1 apart from other helicopters. The result is a cleaner, more unified appearance.
The bubble also lends the hovering craft an insect-like appearance, which generated its nickname, the “bug-eyed helicopter.” It seems fitting, then, that one of the principal uses of the Bell-47D1 has been for pest control through crop-dusting and spraying. It has also been used for traffic surveillance and for the delivery of mail and cargo to remote areas. During the Korean War, it served as an aerial ambulance.
Awarded the world’s first commercial helicopter license by the US Civil Aeronautics Administration (now the Federal Aviation Administration), the Bell-47D1 weighs 1,380 pounds. Its maximum speed is ninety-two miles per hour, and its maximum range is 194 miles. It can hover like a dragonfly at altitudes up to ten thousand feet.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)