Early models varied in appearance, with open cockpits or sheet metal cabins, fabric covered or open structures, some with four-wheel landing gear. Later model D and Korean War H-13D and E types settled on a more utilitarian style. The most common model, the 47G introduced in 1953, can be recognized by the full "soap bubble" canopy, exposed welded-tube tail boom, saddle fuel tanks and skid landing gear.
The later three-seat 47H had an enclosed cabin with full cowling and monocoque tail boom. It was an attempt to market a "luxury" version of the basic 47G. Relatively few were produced.
Engines were Franklin or Lycoming vertically mounted piston engines of 200 to 305 HP (150 to 230 kW). Seating varied from two (early 47s and the later G-5A) to four (the J and KH-4).
In April 2011 there were 1068 registered with the Federal Aviation Administration in the United States and 15 in the United Kingdom.
Bell 47s were produced in Japan by a Bell and Kawasaki venture; this led to the Kawasaki KH-4 variant, a four-seat version of the Model 47 with a cabin similar to the Bell 47J. It differed from the "J" in having a standard uncovered tail boom and fuel tanks like the G series. It was sold throughout Asia, and some were used in Australia.
In February 2010, the Bell 47 type certificates were transferred to Scott's Helicopter Services. The sister company that was formed, Scott's - Bell 47, is in the process of starting production of a turboshaft powered version of the Bell 47, the 47GT-6, using a Rolls-Royce RR300 engine and with composite rotor blades, with deliveries planned from 2016.