The Bellanca C.F. high-wing monoplane was the prototype for the first line of successful cabin aircraft, including Pacemakers and Cruisairs, built in the United States. Its creator, Italian immigrant Giuseppe Bellanca, embraced a completely new vision and design in the early 1920s, offering four passengers comfort and cover in a cabin while keeping the traditional open cockpit for the pilot.
Bellanca visualized the C.F. as a commercial transport aircraft before a market really existed; therefore, only one C.F. was ever built. However, the beautifully crafted monoplane, with its high-lift struts and mahogany plywood panels, exhibited high performance. It won races in 1922 and 1923 and also hosted two aerial marriages.
The Bellanca C.F. monoplane was the prototype of the first line of successful cabin monoplanes designed and built in the United States. Only one C.F. was built, but its efficiency and performance earned it first place in a succession of races in 1922 and 1923. The C.F. was only the beginning for Giuseppe Bellanca who improved the design and created an entire line of successful cabin monoplanes including the famous WB-2 Columbia, and Bellanca Pacemakers, Skyrockets, and Cruisairs for sport and executive flying. Bellanca introduced the C.F., though, before the government authorized private airmail contracts and instituted the initiatives and regulations that would bring about the rise of the commercial aircraft industry. Thus, it was the Bellanca C.F.'s fate to be ahead of its time.
In September 1912, Italian immigrant Giuseppe Bellanca founded the Bellanca Aeroplane Company and Flying School in Brooklyn, New York to manufacture aircraft and conduct flight training. Bellanca had built two airplanes in his native Sicily before constructing a Parasol, a small tractor monoplane with a parasol wing, 30 horsepower Anzani engine and a simple open framework with a seat on the lower longeron, in the back of his brother's grocery store in Brooklyn in 1911. He then proceeded to test fly the aircraft, while at the same time, teaching himself how to fly. After the formation of the school and construction of another aircraft, Bellanca began instructing from the ground as students experimented with short hops in the single-seat aircraft. One of his early students was Fiorello LaGuardia, later a World War I bomber pilot and mayor of New York City, who offered to teach Bellanca to drive a Model T Ford in return.
The Maryland Pressed Steel Company contracted Bellanca to build a trainer, and in September 1916, he finished the Bellanca C.D., a biplane with a radial engine and wing warping for lateral control. The C.E. soon followed quickly with ailerons and a radial Anzani engine that produced a maximum speed of 102 mph and was purchased by Clarence Chamberlain as a barnstorming aircraft. Lured to Omaha, Nebraska, by a short-lived business proposition, Bellanca then formed the Roos-Bellanca Aircraft Company with Victor H. Roos and A.H. Fetters to complete the in-progress Bellanca C.F.
Giuseppe Bellanca's C.F. embraced a completely new vision and design in the early 1920s, offering passengers comfort and cover from the weather in a cabin while keeping the tradition of an open cockpit for the pilot. The fuselage had a hump shape, similar to an airfoil that required the pilot, sitting aft of the cabin and off center to the left, to look under the left wing of the aircraft for side and some forward visibility. The struts of the aircraft were also airfoil shape and thus assisted with lift in flight, rather than just supporting the high single wing. Balsa wood, for lightness, formed the leading edge of the two-spar strut. The wooden-frame fuselage was covered with mahogany plywood panels around the cabin and tail area and with fabric on the aft fuselage and on the wings, struts, and flying tail surfaces. The cabin accommodated four passengers and had five small windows on each side. The aircraft was powered by a 95 hp Anzani engine. Harry G. Smith, an airmail pilot, took the C.F. up for its first flight on June 8, 1922, and he reported the aircraft's favorable stability and maneuverability in banking, loops and rolls.
Clearly Bellanca visualized the C.F. as a means of commercial transportation but first he had to introduce the design to the aviation world. Bellanca did so by entering the C.F. in several races with dramatic results. One week after its first flight, the Bellanca C.F. flew at the Midwestern Flying Meet at Monmouth, Illinois, where it won all four events of speed, time to climb, and gliding endurance. Wins at the Tarkio Aero Meet, Interstate Aero Meets, with famed airmail pilot Bill Hobson as pilot, and the National Air Races of 1923, plus two aerial marriages performed in the cabin, garnered publicity for the C.F. and its performance.
Despite the auspicious start, the C.F. design did not take off. The Yellow Aircab Company of New York purchased the C.F. in 1924, with plans for an aerial taxi service, and added a 110 hp Anzani engine along with a new forward fuselage, a steel-tube landing gear, and more windows in the fuselage. Yellow Aircab went out of business and Continental Aircraft Corporation bought the aircraft in 1925, but it too went bankrupt. P. Bilbertis bought the aircraft on August 30, 1928, and sold it on December 10 to William Stanley Smith for only $150.00. Smith acquired registration number NR11036 for the aircraft, a restricted license because he was a student pilot, and installed first a 35-gallon and then a 55-gallon fuel tank. He also added a vertical stabilizer to the tail. Instructor pilot Paul Kotze was ready to test-fly the aircraft on a marginal day of high winds and low ceilings but veteran pilot Bert Acosta arrived and announced his intention to fly the airplane because it was the one type that he had never flown. Acosta flew above the clouds for awhile and then landed and apologized for commandeering the aircraft.
Following Smith's death in an accident with another aircraft, the C.F. was displayed and flown at the Roosevelt Field Air Museum on Long Island with a Curtiss D Headless Pusher, the Thomas-Morse S-4C Scout and other early aircraft. The Roosevelt Field Museum deteriorated and the C.F. returned to the Bellanca family, then living on the Sassafras River near the Chesapeake Bay, in Galena, Maryland. After Giuseppe's death in 1960, the family donated the aircraft to the Museum, and it arrived at the Silver Hill facility in Suitland, Maryland. From January 1979 to May 1980, NASM craftsmen repaired, replaced, or rebuilt significant portions of the aircraft, including the mahogany fuselage, tail section, landing gear, and engine mount and cowling. New Grade A cotton fabric and a restored 110 hp Anzani engine completed the restoration.