After involvement in several aviation enterprises Giuseppe Mario Bellanca joined engine manufacturer Wright Aeronautics in 1923 to design an aircraft to show the potential and reliability of the new Wright Whirlwind series of radial engines. The first design, derived from the Bellanca CF and designated Wright-Bellanca WB-1, was a five-seat high-winged monoplane cabin airliner powered by a 200 hp Wright J-4 engine.
It flew at the 1925 National Air Races in Philadelphia National Air Races in Philadelphia winning the speed and efficiency competitions. During speed and payload tests in preparation for an attempt to break the world's non-refueled endurance record the WB-1 crashed at Curtiss Field in 1926. US Navy pilot Becker, who did most of the WB-1 flying, was seriously injured and the aircraft damaged beyond repair.
The WB-2, an improved six-seat version, followed in 1926, in its turn winning the efficiency competition at the 1926 National Air Races at Philadelphia, and the Detroit News Trophy efficiency contest. However Wright decided not to compete with potential engine buying aircraft manufacturers and ended aircraft production. A disappointed Bellanca left Wright and joined Charles A. Levine of Columbia Air Liners Inc. to form Columbia Aircraft Corp. and Levine bought the WB-2 aircraft and production rights from Wright.
In 1927 Charles Lindbergh was searching for an aircraft to attempt to win the $ 25,000 prize in the Raymond Orteig solo transatlantic race. He was impressed by the performance and reliability of the WB-2. Levine agreed to sell the WB-2 to Lindbergh for $ 15,000, but at his arrival at Columbia Aircraft Levine stipulated that he wanted to select the crew to fly the aircraft. Lindbergh did not want to agree to that and left on a cross-continent trip to San Diego and bought the Ryan M-2 for only $ 6,000, the rest is history.
Between April 12 and 14, 1927 pilots Clarence Chamberlin and Bert Acosta set a world endurance record of 51 hours, 11 minutes and 20 seconds with the WB-2 over Roosevelt Field. Chamberlin wanted to attempt to win the Orteig prize too with the WB-2, now named "Columbia", but Levine's arguing about the crew was still going on when Lindbergh landed in Paris on May 21, 1927.
Finally, on June 4 1927, Chamberlin took the "Columbia" into the air for the trip to Europe with Levine on board. As Levine had no aeronautical skills, he became the first transatlantic passenger. Intended to fly to Berlin the flight ended due to fuel starvation in a field near Eisleben 100 mls (160 km) south-west of Berlin on June 6. They had flown 3,905 mls (6,285 km) and 42 hours and 45 minutes, 315 mls (507km) and 9 hours and 6 minutes longer than Lindbergh.
Giuseppe Bellanca severed all relations with Columbia Aircraft Corp. and Levine to form Bellanca Aircraft Corp on December 30, 1927.
In 1928 the "Columbia" made the first non-stop flight between New York and Havana, piloted by Wilbur Stultz with Mabel Boll (also known as "Queen of Diamonds") as passenger.
Renamed "Maple Leaf" the sole WB-2 was finally destroyed in a hangar fire at the Bellanca factory in Newcastle, Delaware, on January 25, 1934.
Max T/O weight:
Six-seat high wing monoplane transport aircraft
One 220 hp Wright J-5 Whirlwind radial engine
46 ft 4 in (14.12 m)
27 ft 9 in (8.46 m)
1,604 lb (728 kg)
5,400 lb (2,450 kg)
126 mph (203 km/h)
105 mph (169 km/h)
13,000 ft (3,962 m)