Sixty-five years ago this week, on October 14, 1947, the Bell X-1 piloted by Chuck Yeager became the first aircraft to break the sound barrier in level flight, a feat immortalized in “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe.
What you may not know is that the X-1 was designed and built in Buffalo by Bell Aircraft, which was part of a thriving Aerospace & Defense sector in WNY that dated back to the first days of flight. Glenn Curtiss, of Hammondsport, NY was arguably the most important aviation innovator at the dawn of powered flight, after the Wright Brothers. His contributions in designing and building aircraft ultimately led to the formation of Curtiss-Wright Corporation in Buffalo which became the largest aircraft maker in the world and the second largest company in America with 180,000 employees by 1945. During WWI, Curtiss produced the famous JN-4 “Jenny” trainer for the U.S. Army and the Curtiss plant at 2050 Elmwood was considered the largest aircraft factory in the world. Throughout the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, Buffalo was a hotspot in the American aircraft industry with companies like Curtiss-Wright, Consolidated, Bell and others. During WWII, Buffalo plants manufactured a number of famous aircraft including the P-40 Warhawk, the mount of the famous Flying Tigers, and the P-59 Airacomet, the first American jet.
The post-war drop in defense spending resulted in a wave of mergers and consolidations which led to the disappearance of many famous names in Buffalo’s aircraft industry. But echoes of those glory days remain in our region in the form of companies like Moog, Northrup Grumman, SKF Aeroengine, AVOX, Calspan, Astronics, Servotronics and others that still play an important role in aviation throughout the world.
We are proud to call many of those companies our clients and to do our part to maintain and grow Buffalo’s historic prominence in Aerospace & Defense. Stay tuned for more “Made in WNY” stories.