Leonard Bonney, an aviation pioneer and one-time First World War US Army and Navy flying instructor. Bonney became obsessed with the shape of a gull’s wing, which he believed to be the most efficient and capable wing form in nature. He set out to design an airplane that mimicked its qualities.
Through mechanical mechanisms he sought to be able to vary the wing’s incidence and sweep. The design, wind tunnel testing and fabrication of the Bonney Gull took him almost five years. At a time when a new airplane cost about $3,000, the Gull’s development cost was $83,000.
The aircraft had so many new features and looked so unpredictable that Bonney could not get a test pilot to take it up—so he did it himself. On 4 May 1928 at Curtiss Field, Long Island after a quick flight in another aircraft to refresh his skills, he took the Gull into the air on its first flight. At a height of about 50 feet, the porpoising aircraft nosed over and dove straight into Long Island. Leonard Bonney was killed.