North Carolina Centennial of Flight

William Luther Paul

Born in Carteret County in 1869, William Luther Paul was a creative genius who combined an inventive mind with a love of the sky. Paul fixed machines as a young man, and later built a bicycle. As an adult, Paul ran a blacksmith and machine shop. In 1906 he constructed a showboat by installing a motion picture projector and lamp in a flat-bottomed boat. He then produced a discrete one-person paddleboat for duck hunting. The operator of the boat lay prone and paddled through the water, floating low to surprise ducks. It was appropriately called the sneak boat. Paul had been interested in the mechanics of propellers for some time, but it was the windmill that inspired him to build a helicopter. He called his invention the Bumble Bee because of its agility and shape. Paul built the Bee with motorcycle parts; two eight-foot long propellers acted as its wings. During test flights in 1907, the Bumble Bee lifted off the floor of its hangar and hovered five feet in the air. The inventor was on the right track; now he just needed to alter the vehicle so it could accommodate his own weight.


A shelter for housing or repairing aircraft.

Paul never finished his work on the Bumble Bee. On September 17, 1908, Orville Wright crashed his airplane in Fort Myer, Virginia, killing his passenger. When Paul's wife read about the accident, she begged her husband to drop the Bumble Bee project altogether. Paul did no more work on his helicopter until 1942, when he sent the designs for the Bumble Bee to the Inventors Council of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Sadly, the I.C. rejected his suggestion. Paul died in 1946 in Beaufort. If the claims of Paul and witnesses are true, William Luther Paul was the first person in America to create a working helicopter.