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First VTOL Airplane — Bell XV-3

9 November 2012

First VTOL Airplane — Bell XV-3

Cockpit of the Bell Helicopter Textron XV-3 which was the first VTOL aircraft to fly both vertcally and horizontally — photo by Joseph May

The promise of an aircraft which had the benefits of both a helicopter and an fast airplane was researched in a joint U.S. Air Force–U.S. Army effort through the Bell Helicopter Textron company. Bell produced two of the XV-3 in 1955 — the world’s first VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) airplane. The XV-3 opened the dimension of VTOL flight to the world on 19 December 1958 when it became the first aircraft to vertically take off and convert to horizontal flight.

The XV-3 is a twin tilt-rotor design which flew as fast as 184 mph/294.4kph with the ability to hover as well as take-off and land vertically. Though not developing beyond testing the XV-3 clearly is the ancestor of the Bell Boeing CV-22 Osprey — note that Bell is still in the mix almost six decades later. The XV-3 flew for ten years and has been exhibited in at least two museums. The first airplane to fly as a VTOL is now exhibited in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

The right side tilt-rotor, note the slot enabling the proprotor to swivel forward so the XV-3 would fly as a conventional aircraft — photo by Joseph May

More information and additional photos can be found on this fact sheet from the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Edward Gronenthal permalink
    9 November 2012 17:56

    Strictly speaking, the XV-3 is not the first VTOL aircraft. Any helicopter is also a VTOL aircraft, and they had been flying in practical form since the mid-1930s. The XV-3 is more properly classified as the first convertiplane or tiltrotor aircraft.

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      10 November 2012 07:49

      You have a point and thank you for reminding me of helicopters. When researching for the post it became apparent that the term “VTOL” applies to airplanes and not to helicopters. Nonetheless I don’t disagree with you, so I added airplane to the title and changed “aircraft” to “airplane” in two places within the text — but at the risk of being redundant.

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