A closer look at the legendary Bell 47

By Rickard Gillberg on Feb 11, 2013
The Bell 47 made its maiden flight on 8 December 1945. It was the result of the designer Arthur M. Young’s prototype work on Bell Aircraft Corporation’s Model 30, which had made its first flight three years earlier. The American Civil Aviation Authority formally approved the Bell 47 on 8 March 1946, and it hereby became the first licenced civilian helicopter in the world.

At about the same time the Swedish company AB Aero Service had sent flight engineer Nils Olof Sefeldt to the United States in a quest for appropriate aircraft manufactures in need of a Swedish sales agency. In May 1946 he alerted his president, mr Lennart Osterman, that Bell Aircraft Corporation was interested in introducing helicopters in Sweden, provided that Aero Service first purchased a few machines. After a visit to the factory Hans Osterman successfully obtained the regional agency for the company - and three new Bell 47 helicopters were ordered as a part of the deal. The first helicopter came to Sweden in November 1946, eight months after the model got its airworthiness approval. The helicopter, a brand new green Bell 47B (serial number 10), arrived by boat in boxes to Södertälje. It was in fact the very first helicopter to be sold to a non-American customer. Ostermans Aero (the new name for AB Aero Service) hereby made history as the first commercial helicopter operator outside the United States.

The helicopter, which was marked SE-AZT at the time (later SE-HAA), made its first flight at Bromma Airport in Stockholm on 14 February 1947. The pilot on board was no other than Osterman’s engineer Nils Olof Sefeldt. At the same day, CAA director Carl Ljungberg became the first helicopter passenger in Sweden when he joined Mr Sedfeldt on a short flight in the Bell 47. The first official presentation was conducted six days later, as the aircraft was displayed next to the National Maritime Museum at Gärdet on 20 February 1947.

In the next decade the Bell 47 paved the way for what we devotedly call “the business” today. Ostermans made emergency medical flights, military evaluations, postal flights, training operations, crop dusting, aerial surveys and numerous public displays throughout large parts of Scandinavia.

The second Swedish helicopter company came to be Lapplandsflyg, which had been established as an airplane operator in northern Sweden in the spring of 1953. The owner, mr Bertil Johansson, wanted a Bell 47 for his operation, but he didn’t want to involve Ostermans Aero in the acquisition since Ostermans’ helicopter business was a powerful rival in the region. Instead, Johansson travelled all the way to Bell Aircraft’s factory near Forth Worth in Texas and picked up a helicopter himself in June 1956. The aircraft was airfreighted from Idlewille Airport, New York to Hamburg by a DC-4 and flew on its own rotors to Sweden where it became the 17:th helicopter in the country (preceded by fourteen Bell 47s and two Sikorsky S-55s).

Lapplandsflyg came to use the helicopter for utility operations in large parts of the mountain world, and the aircraft was soon accompanied by the sister ships SE-HCB and SE-HCC (and four other Bell 47s). The core of the business was based in Porjus, but the company had bases in Kiruna and Arjeplog at that time as well. The main customers were the power company Vattenfall and the local sami people.

The Swedish helicopter business has developed radically since the 50s, but a small portion of private Bell 47s remains to this date. Four of Lapplandsflyg’s retired helicopters are among the roughly eight Bell 47s that are in a flying, or near-flying, condition today. As somewhat of a coincidence Lapplandsflyg’s first three helicopters have all survived – SE-HCA, SE-HCB and SE-HCC. One is flying at this date, and the other two are being restored.

Approximately three Bell 47s are airworthy in Sweden right now (late-2012): SE-HEO, SE-HCC and SE-JHP. About five are in a near-complete condition: SE-HPA, SE-HPE, SE-HPG, SE-HCA and SE-HCB. Some additional airframes and near-complete Bell 47s do exist, including one in Västerås (“SE-JII”). In a total, there have been 55 Bell 47s registered in Sweden between 1946-2012.

Nordic Rotors was invited to take a closer look at Lapplandsflyg’s former workhorse SE-HCC. This helicopter is currently owned by Stig Aggevall - an aviation insurance broker and a true Bell 47 enthusiast. The aircraft is kept in a mint condition, and it is treated with loads of love and respect.

This 1959 G-2 model came to Sweden in 1960 and became the 28:th helicopter in Sweden. It was owned by Lapplandsflyg, but came to be operated by organisations like the Swedish Army and the National Police from time to time. It spent large parts of its commercial career in northern Sweden, and it was frequently operated at Lapplandsflyg’s bases in Arjeplog, Gällivare, Hemavan, Kiruna, Kvikkjokk, Porjus, Storuman and Umeå.

SE-HCC was leased to Svaipaflyg in 1977, where it came to set the grounds for what would later become Fjällflygarna AB. The helicopter was sold to Fiskflyg in 1981, and was utilized in their business until 1985, when it was returned to Lapplandsflyg and put in storage in Umeå.

The aircraft was revived into an airworthy condition between the years 2004-2006. A lot of nostalgia and hard work carefully brought back the original 1960s. As the helicopter reached completion mr Aggevall purchased SE-HCC from mr Bertil Johansson himself. Stig Aggevall was a friend of Bertil and he was keen on preserving Lapplandsflyg’s heritage. Since then, HCC has been a frequent visitor to air shows, fly-ins and meetings throughout the country. It is always a popular guest wherever it touches down.

In 2010, as the helicopter celebrated 50 years in the country, HCC was awarded the prestigious “Barkarby Price” by the Swedish Aviation Historical Society. The price was presented for “Restoration and maintenance of an aircraft that have made lasting impression on the Swedish aviation history”.

The helicopter, which has accumulated approximately 9000 hours this far, is stationed at a small private airfield a bit north of Stockholm. Looking closer at the aircraft, it is a beautiful Bell 47 with a prominent vintage look and with a remarkable sense for details. The helicopter expresses a true grace from the pioneer era, and it has got features like the well-known wooden blades and the original Lapplandsflyg checklist.

There are numerous models and versions of the Bell 47, all from the classic bubble canopy to a car-like exterior with four wheels, a four-seat version and a VIP model. The “G” version was the most popular in Sweden. It features a wide sofa with room for three people next to each other, a slim instrument panel, dual saddle gas tanks and an open tail boom with rear synchronized elevators. The G-2 version is equipped with a 260 hp Lycoming VO-435 engine and hydraulic assisted controls.

The Bell 47 is beautiful on the ground, but it is also a lovely aircraft to fly. Once airborne it wants to stay in the air, and quite simply has no desires to go return to the ground anytime soon. The heavy rotor blades, which are working in synergy with the stabilizer bar, give some really calm flight characteristics, and the autorotation performance is said to be phenomenal. The 47 feels rock steady in the hover and hangs perfectly balanced in the teetering rotor head. The view out of the Plexiglas bubble is tremendous – nothing I’ve ever flown matches the seemingly endless space and visibility in the Bell 47 bubble. It’s not a fast aircraft, but it is for sure a comfortable and reliable helicopter.

A chance to buy a Bell 47
Announced late-2012, SE-HCC will be offered for sale in the winter. Stig Aggevall has recently acquired two additional Bell 47s. One of the helicopters, SE-HCA, will be restored to a flying condition, and the second one (the airframe of SE-HCF) is being inspected for potential renovations.
Mr Aggevall says that he will sell HCC in order to focus on the new helicopters. The choice to bring HCA back to life was made due to the aircraft’s nostalgic value, and as a tribute to late Bertil Johansson’s nowadays-retired company Lapplandsflyg. Stig Aggevall says that he welcomes any serious bidders that has a respect for aviation history and a desire to look after HCC in the same way it has been nursed these past 7 years. Who knows, we might be able to see a touring two-ship vintage show with these two old helicopters in the future?

Potential for the Bell 47
The Bell 47 type certificate is owned by the American company Scott's Helicopter Services since February 2010, re-titling the model as “Scott's-Bell 47”. The company which is also operating 20 Bell 47 in spraying operations is responsible for commercial spares support, technical support and continued airworthiness. It also offers totally refurbished Bell 47s with new instrument panel, interiors and composite main rotor blades.

Want to find out more about HCC?
Mr Stig Aggevall is happy to answer any questions regarding his historic aircraft. He can be reached on his phone +46 (0)70 645 02 52, stig.aggevall(at)universallife.se or www.universallife.se.

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