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By Brad McNally - Today, helicopters conduct a wide variety of missions in all corners of the world. However, this wasn’t always the case. It took many dedicated people to transform the helicopter from its meager beginnings, to the reliable and capable aircraft that it is today. There were many talented engineers who designed them, craftsman who built them andJoe Mashman test pilots who flew them. However, one man more than any other was responsible for showcasing the helicopter’s abilities and expanding its presence in both military and commercial aviation. For nearly 40 years, Joe Mashman traveled the world in a Bell helicopter. His masterful flying, engaging personality and keen insight into the aviation world helped introduce the helicopter to many new applications in new places.
Joseph Mashman was born in Chicago, IL on April 17, 1916. His parents were Russian immigrants who had come to the United States several years earlier. Mashman grew up in Chicago’s stockyards section. His father operated a newspaper distribution business there. He attended Chicago’s Tilden Technical High School, where he was an average student with an interest in mechanical things. Mashman also developed an interest in music and learned to play the French horn. Although he was a standby French horn player for the Chicago Symphony, he didn’t see a future in music and decided to focus on his mechanical interests and become an engineer. His parents were very supportive of him going to college, but had very little money to help finance it. In order to pay for college, he took a job at the Chicago Yacht Club operating and maintaining the club’s ferryboat. From this job he earned enough money to enroll in the Armour Institute of Technology, which later became the Illinois Institute of Technology. While at the Armour Institute, Mashman majored in civil engineering. During his second year of college, he was able to save up enough money to get a half hour flight lesson in an Aeronca K. Mashman was immediately hooked on aviation. Money was tight and he had to save his lunch money to pay for flight lessons. He eventually got his private pilot’s license, although he did not immediately enter the aviation business. The death of his father forced him to leave college during his senior year to help support his family. Despite not having a degree, Mashman got a civil engineering job building a Veteran’s Hospital in Tennessee. After only a few months on the job, he knew that civil engineering was not for him and decided to pursue a career in aviation. He borrowed money to support his mother and enrolled in the government’s Civilian Pilot Training program or CPT. CPT was designed to build up a pool of pilots and instructors to help support the aviation industry. Mashman already had a private pilot’s license and through this program he was able to add commercial and instructor ratings to his resume. After finishing the CPT program in Indianapolis, he became an instructor for Roscoe Turner’s fixed base operation there. In 1941, Mashman returned to Chicago and took a job as an instructor with the Sturgeon Flying Service based at Sky Harbor Airport in Northbrook, IL. In 1943 a Bell Aircraft representative came through the area looking for test pilots and offered him a job. His engineering background and flight instructor experience made him a good candidate. Mashman accepted and moved to New York to begin working for Bell.
Joe Mashman’s first assignment with Bell was as a P-39 Airacobra production test pilot. He graduated to experimental test pilot and later flew most of the stability test flights on the P-63 Kingcobra and the jet powered P-59 Airacomet. On January 5, 1945, Jack Woolams, Bell’s chief test pilot, was preparing for a dive test in a P-59. Mashman was instructed to fly a P-63 to 12,000 feet, wait for Woolams to dive down from 25,000 and then follow him down. As Woolams descended down, Mashman followed him only to see the tail on Woolams’s aircraft explode. Woolams ejected and parachuted down to a snow-covered field with Mashman circling overhead. Woolams was injured and suffering from hypothermia, but was able to walk a mile and a half to a farmhouse. Mashman relayed back to the control tower what had happened. Unfortunately, the roads were covered with snow and an ambulance was unable to get to Woolams. Upon hearing the news, Larry Bell personally dispatched his still experimental helicopter to provide medial help. Floyd Carlson flew the second Bell Model 30, known as Ship 2, from the Bell Aircraft factory to a parking lot where he picked up a doctor and proceeded to Woolams. The helicopter did not have a radio so Mashman circled the farmhouse to direct Carlson where to go. Carlson was able to deliver the doctor, who stabilized Woolams until a snowplow could clear the way for an ambulance. That was the first time that Joe Mashman had ever seen a helicopter (Padfield, 1992). About two months later, it was decided that the Bell Aircraft helicopter development team needed another pilot. At the time, Floyd Carlson, a previous fixed-wing test pilot, was the only Bell helicopter pilot. However, none of the fixed-wing test pilots wanted to volunteer to fly helicopters. Mashman had some interest in the helicopter after seeing the Woolams rescue first hand. He was the most junior member of the group and figured that he would be selected for helicopter duty anyway, so he decided to volunteer. He was assigned to Bell’s helicopter development team as a helicopter test pilot in the spring of 1945. Later in life, he said that volunteering to fly the helicopter was one of the best decisions he ever made (Padfield, 1992).
Upon Mashman’s arrival at the helicopter development group’s Gardenville facility, Floyd Carlson taught him to fly the Bell Model 30. The two of them would do nearly all of the flight tests on the original Bell Model 30s, known as Ships 1, 2 and 3. By the end of 1945, Mashman had become a valuable member of the Gardenville team and a skilled helicopter pilot. Around this same time, Bell was trying to get the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA) to certify the Bell Model 47. The problem was that no helicopter had ever been certified by the CAA, so new standards had to be developed. Joe Mashman joe masmannot only helped to adapt the fixed-wing certification standards to helicopters, but also played an important role in determining the training and certification standards that would be needed for helicopter pilots (Padfield, R., 1992). On March 8, 1946, the Bell Model 47 received the first commercial certification ever given to a helicopter, followed by Approved Type Certificate Number One (NC-1H) two months later. Floyd Carlson and Joe Mashman also received helicopter instructor pilot ratings, which allowed Bell Aircraft to open a helicopter flight training school later that year (Brown, 1995). On January 28, 1947, Carlson became the first CAA commercial rotorcraft pilot examiner and Mashman became the second. Following the commencement Model 47 production, Mashman continued as a test pilot. However as the need to sell aircraft became more important, he began flying fewer test flights and more demonstrations. Both Carlson and Mashman were considered excellent pilots. Carlson was very good as a test pilot and Mashman’s smoothness on the controls and outgoing personality made him ideally suited for dealing with potential customers. Eventually, Floyd Carlson became Bell’s chief helicopter test pilot and Joe Mashman became Bell’s chief helicopter demonstration pilot.     
Mashman took on assignments all over the world demonstrating the helicopter and new uses for it. One day in 1946, he came to work with several bags of Pillsbury Flower in his car. Agricultural uses for the helicopter had been suggested and Mashman thought that he could demonstrate the ability of the helicopter’s downwash to get pesticide under the plant leaves. Several bins were rigged to the sides of Model 30 Ship 1A (the rebuilt Model 30 Ship 1 following an accident) and the flour was loaded in the bins. Joe Mashman commenced to spread the flour around the Niagara Falls airport. It worked so well that Bell made a short movie out of his demonstration to interest potential customers. Later a Washington state farmer purchased a Model 47 to dust his orchards, which led to the Model 47 being the first helicopter certified for crop dusting (Brown, 1995). In 1947, a locust plague swept through Argentina. In an effort to combat the locust hordes, 13 Bell Model 47s were purchased and outfitted with pesticide dusting bins. Larry Bell personally sent Joe Mashman to Argentina to help develop the procedures for dusting the swarms of bugs and train the pilots needed to operate the helicopters. After the dusting operation was established, Mashman switched from combating the bugs in Argentina to doing helicopter demonstrations all across South America. He ended up staying for a year and returned to the United States in 1948.
Around the time of Mashman’s return, Larry Bell received an unusual request. His friend Stuart Symington, then Secretary of the Air Force, asked him if he could provide a helicopter for the use of Symington’s friend Congressman Lyndon Johnson (Brown, 1995). One of Johnson’s aides had suggested using a helicopter for his senatorial campaign and Johnson thought it would attract people to his speeches. Larry Bell assigned Mashman to fly Congressman Johnson around Texas in a Model 47D. Just after July 4, 1948, Joe Mashman began a three weeklong tour of the state of Texas, flying Lyndon Johnson from rally to rally. Loudspeakers were installed on the sides of the helicopter so that when flying over small towns, Johnson could make short campaign speeches to the residents without landing. Despite being down in the polls initially, Johnson was able to force a run-off election, which he later won to become a senator from Texas. Although it is debatable whether or not the helicopter helped Lyndon Johnson win the election, using it was a radical idea that not doubt brought him and the helicopter a significant amount of attention. Joe Mashman would continue to have a close friendship with Lyndon Johnson until Johnson’s death in 1973. Mashman also continued to fly for him both while he was President and after leaving the White House (Padfield, 1992).
After finishing Lyndon Johnson’s senatorial campaign, Joe Mashman returned to work demonstrating the helicopter for potential Bell customers. Bell targeted the corporate market and Mashman gave demonstrations to executives at General Motors, Chrysler, Ford (including to Henry Ford Jr.), along with several trucking and restaurant companies. In March of 1949, Mashman returned to South America. This time he flew geologists from the Ohio Oil Company over the central Guatemalan jungles on a month long geophysical survey (Spenser, 1998). In the 1950s, Joe Mashman did a series of demonstrations for the military. After hearing about the problems the Marines were having in Korea with Russian tanks, Mashman and Hans Weichsel devised a plan to help. They borrowed a Bazooka from the Pentagon and worked with Bell engineers to mount it on the landing skid of a Model 47. They also developed a way to aim the weapon using a rear sight and a mark on the windscreen. The Bazooka was initially test fired on the ground. After seeing no apparent damage to the helicopter, Mashman took off with a Marine Corps colonel for the first in-flight test. Joe Mashman proceeded to hit a large wooden test range target dead on at a distance of 300 yards (Brown, 1995). Despite the success of the demonstration, the helicopter fired Bazooka did not go into service in Korea. However, this did foreshadow the future attack helicopter models, which Bell would make very successful. Later in the war, at the request of Larry Bell, Joe Mashman went to Korea to observe and fly with U.S. Army pilots operating on the front lines. Bell already had technical representatives in Korea assisting with helicopter maintenance. Mashman went to advise the pilots, many of who were relatively inexperienced. He helped develop a jump takeoff procedure, which involved using maximum rotor rpm to jump the helicopter up then decreasing the collective slightly while increasing the airspeed. Another technique that Mashman helped to develop was a high altitude, high gross weight takeoff in which an elevated landing spot was used to allow the helicopter to go through translational lift while descending down the slope (Padfield, 1992).
The post Korean War boom in helicopter sales meant that Joe Mashman was extremely busy. He demonstrated the Model 47 across Europe and the United States. One of the most important demonstrations occurred in 1957. Mashman landed a Model 47J on the south lawn of the White House and showed the helicopter to President Eisenhower. Later, he gave check rides to two Air Force pilots assigned to fly the President. From the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, Joe Mashman demonstrated Model 47s throughout Africa from Algeria to Ethiopia to South Africa, in the Far East including Indonesia and Japan, and other countries such as India, Israel, Pakistan, Iran and Australia. However, some of the most impressive demonstrations of his career occurred during a three-month tour of Central and South America. The trip began in 1956 shortly after the Bell Model 47J was certified but before commercial sales began. At the time, Mashman was the Assistant Director of Contracts and Joe Beebe, the Bell Senior Service Representative, accompanied him. The helicopter chosen was the second 47J off the production line. It was slightly modified and nicknamed the Silver Hummingbird. The trip lasted 83 days, covered 17,000 miles through 15 countries and logged 250 flight hours. The South American tour was extremely successful. Not only did Mashman thoroughly demonstrate the new 47J to many potential customers, but also more importantly Mashman and Beebe showed how reliable the helicopter was and how little maintenance it required. Mashman later estimated that during the whole trip, Beebe only performed 40 hours of maintenance on the helicopter, with most of that coming during preflight inspections. FLYING magazine writer C. L. Hamilton later described the trip as “one of the milestone performances of general aviation progress (Padfield, 1992).” One of the most notable events during the trip occurred in Peru. While in Lima, Mashman was told about a girl who had been seriously injured in a car accident in a mountain mining town. The town was 55 miles away by air and at an elevation of 13,000 feet. The girl was so badly injured that she could not be transported over the roads. Mashman agreed to attempt a medevac, which required a climb to 17,000 feet to cross the Andes. Mashman knew that he would need every ounce of power that he could get out of the helicopter so he had Beebe strip all the cowlings and doors off of the helicopter and replace the spark plugs and fan belt. His first attempt was with a Peruvian Air Force officer who knew the area. However he could not climb over the mountains with the weight of the passenger. Mashman returned, disembarked the officer and tried the medevac again with a crude map. On the second attempt, Mashman reached the mining town. There the injured girl, who was in a full body cast, was loaded into the helicopter. Mashman was able to fly her back to a hospital. The rescue was broadcast on Lima radio and over 8,000 people were at the hospital when he landed. In the process of saving the girl, Joe Mashman became Joe Mashmanthe first person to cross the Andes Mountains in a helicopter (Padfield, 1992). 
In the 1960s, Joe Mashman played a key role in the development of several of the most successful military helicopters ever created. His ability to act as a liaison between the Bell engineers and the end-users was essential in Bell’s success in the 1960s. Mashman’s mastery of the Bell UH-1 Huey was a key reason why several foreign militaries chose to purchase it. He later demonstrated the Bell 207 Sioux Scout, the forerunner to the first helicopter specifically designed for attack missions, to the U.S. Army. This resulted in the development of the Bell Model 209 (AH-1) HueyCobra. The AH-1 was the first dedicated attack helicopter. His successful demonstrations to senior U.S. Army officers helped pave the way for the HueyCobra to go from initial demonstrations to deployment in Vietnam in less than two years. Into the 1970s, he continued to demonstrate Bell helicopters and provide critical feedback to the designers on civilian models such as the Jet Ranger and Model 222. 
Joe Mashman retired from Bell Helicopter in 1981. At the time of his retirement he was Vice President of Special Operations. Over his nearly 40 year career with Bell, Mashman held many jobs including production test pilot, experimental test pilot, demonstration pilot, assistant director of contracts, director of sales planning and assistant vice president (Spenser, 1998). In addition to his work at Bell, Joe Mashman held a variety of important positions in the helicopter industry including president of the American Helicopter Society, founding member of the Twirly Birds, founding member and president of the Helicopter Club of American, member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, board member of the Helicopter Association of American (now HAI) and chairman of the HAI IFR committee. Towards the end of his career with Bell and after retirement, he became very involved in helicopter safety writing numerous articles on the subject. For his work with helicopter safety he was awarded the HAI safety award three times. The award was later Joe Mashmanrenamed the Joe Mashman Safety Award (Padfield, 1992). Joe Mashman passed away in 1994 at the age of 78. During nearly 60 years in aviation, he acquired over 17,000 flight hours with over 11,000 in rotorcraft (Haddaway, 1977). His work in the helicopter industry earned him the nickname “Mr. Helicopter” and garnered him an impressive list of honors and awards. In 1964, he became an Honorary Fellow in the American Helicopter Society, followed by similar honors in India and Australia. Mashman was also an Associate Fellow in the American Institute of Aeronautics and received the American Academy of Achievement’s Golden Plate Award in 1965. 
By the beginning of the 1990s, helicopters had become very capable and reliable aircraft with an important place in civil and military aviation. Not many people could have said that they saw the helicopter develop from its early beginnings in the 1940s to the machine that it had become by the 1990s.  Only a select few could have said that they helped shape this transformation. Joe Mashman was one of these few. His work as a test pilot and demonstration pilot over an almost 40 year career with Bell Helicopter helped make Bell a world leader in helicopter development and manufacturing. A position Bell still holds today. While his contributions to Bell were substantial, they are only a small part of the work that he did as one of the first true global ambassadors of the helicopter. Mashman’s abilities as a helicopter demonstration pilot and rotary-wing advocate were unequaled. His work in the United States, South America and Europe helped propel the helicopter onto the world stage and expand helicopter operations. Mashman combined an extraordinary piloting ability, conviction in the helicopter’s capabilities, and the poise and determination of the most polished salesman to introduce the helicopter to people and help them see its usefulness. Even after retirement, he remained active in the helicopter industry, promoting helicopter safety and helping develop the next generation of helicopter pilots. His contributions to the helicopter industry are so extensive that he is undoubtedly a true Rotorcraft Pioneer.
Brown, D. A. (1995). The Bell Helicopter Textron Story, Changing the Way the World
Flies. Arlington, TX: Aerofax Incorporated.
Haddaway, G. E. (1977, January) A visit with “Mr. Helicopter”. Flight, 15-18.
Padfield, R. R. (1992). To Fly Like a Bird. Potomac, MD: Phillips Publishing.
Spenser, J. P. (1998). Whirlybirds: A History of the U.S. Helicopter Pioneers. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press
Posted in: Human Interest


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