Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 33

Two Pitcairn autogiros flying past the
Statue of Liberty in the autumn of 1930.
Photo from the archives of the San Diego
Air & Space Museum.

Pitcairn autogiro, flown by pilot Jim Ray, landing
on the White House lawn on 22 April 1931, where
President Hoover presented the Collier Trophy
to Harold Pitcairn. The aircraft landed so gently
that it rolled only about 10 feet after touching
down. After the ceremony, it departed with a
takeoff run of less than 150 feet.

In 1928 Pitcairn had visited the Cierva company in England and
was allowed to fly their experimental C 8 autogiro. He promptly
bought one and brought it home to the U.S. in crates. Once it was
assembled, Pitcairn used the C-8 to make the first rotary-wing
aircraft flight in America. Simultaneously he became the first
American pilot to receive a rotary-wing license.
In 1929 Cierva and Pitcairn, by then close personal friends,
became partners. A new Pitcairn-Cierva Autogiro Company was
formed in the U.S. with rights to Cierva's patents, and Pitcairn
took a place on the Board of Cierva's English company. Both
companies then proceeded jointly to refine the autogiro concept
and manufacture aircraft.
Using Cierva's analytical theories and much trial and error in
flight testing, Pitcairn, with his chief engineer Agnew Larsen
and test pilot Jim Ray, refined the autogiro designs to improve
performance, eliminate vibration, enhance stability in flight and
reduce the amount of stick force required of the pilot for making
maneuvers. Along the way, Pitcairn documented everything, keeping a law firm busy filing patents for each refinement or innovation.

The Autogiro Had Finally Arrived
From his experience with the earlier flying school enterprise,
Pitcairn could see that the autogiro was much easier to fly than
conventional airplanes. New students graduated to flying solo in
much less time in the autogiro than in airplanes. Moreover, many
fixed-wing airplane accidents were the result of stalls or spins,
often ending in fatal crashes, whereas the autogiro simply could
not stall or spin. Students who had been spooked by the stall-spin
characteristics of airplanes easily mastered the autogiro.
The autogiro could take off in a very short distance, climb out
steeply and land on a dime. Pitcairn had his own autogiro that
he used to commute from his home in Bryn Athen, a northerly
suburb of Philadelphia, to his office at his factory in Willow
Grove, about 20 miles away. At the end of the day he landed on
the lawn back home. The family also had a summer home on the
New Jersey shore, so he was able to continue his commutes to
work by landing and taking off on the beach.
It seemed the era of the autogiros had begun, and they were
continually in the news. Thomas Edison declared the autogiro the
solution for safe flying. Already famous, Amelia Earhart acquired

Pitcairn's solution
was to design
his own aircraft,
which emerged
as a sleek biplane
that was faster,
safer and more
efficient than
any other on
the market.

a Pitcairn autogiro and became the first woman to solo one, and
set the world altitude record for autogiros at over 18,000 feet.
More publicity followed. There was a three-way race to be first
to fly autogiros from coast to coast (Amelia came in second). A
Pitcairn autogiro was the first aircraft to take off and land on a
ship at sea, and for a while autogiros carried the mail between
Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey, operating from the roof
of the Philadelphia post office. In the corny 1930's movie with
Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert "It Happened One Night" the
groom for an outdoor wedding landed on the lawn in his autogiro.

The Collier Trophy
One of Pitcairn's happiest days was in the spring of 1931 when
he was awarded the Collier Trophy, presented annually since
1911 for the greatest achievement in aeronautics in America.
Earlier recipients included Glenn Curtis, Orville Wright and Grover
Loening, and later ones included Howard Hughes, Chuck Yeager
and Kelly Johnson (twice). Standing beside a Pitcairn autogiro
that company test pilot Jim Ray had just landed on the lawn
of the White House, President Hoover presented the trophy to
Pitcairn. The president declared that while Juan de la Cierva had
invented the autogiro, it was Pitcairn who perfected it. Then the
crowd watched as Jim Ray took off and flew back to Philadelphia.

Dreadful Timing
Despite all the hard work to develop it, and the favorable publicity for the autogiro, this was all taking place at the time of the
Great Depression. Production was still humming in 1930 and 1931,
and Pitcairn had hoped to sell hundreds of his autogiros, but it
was a time when there were very few buyers for an aircraft of any
type. Only a few companies or wealthy individuals were able to
pay for them. There was no mass market. The first delivery was
to the Detroit News Company, followed by the likes of Silverbrook
Coal, Sucony Vacuum Oil, Champion Spark Plug, and Coca-Cola.
NACA (the predecessor of today's NASA) bought one for testing,
and the U.S. Navy took three. Barely 150 of all variants were sold.
As the Depression dragged on year after year, Pitcairn had to
lay off nearly all of his employees, keeping only a few who could
work on research and development. Would-be autogiro buyers
were turned away while Pitcairn and his skeleton crew invested
Jetrader  *  Spring 2015 33


Jetrader - Spring 2015

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Jetrader - Spring 2015

A Message from the President
Maurice J. Gallagher, Jr. Honored for Excellence in Aviation
2015 Poised to be Strong Year for Global Leasing
Aircraft Finance Outlook: Boeing's 2015 Perspective
Celebrating the Holidays with ISTAT
The Sweet Sound of the Drone
Aviation History
Q&A: Incoming ISTAT President Marc S. Allinson
Can the Commercial Aircraft Backlog Withstand 50% Lower Fuel Prices?
Aircraft Appraisals
ISTAT Foundation
Advertiser Index
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - cover1
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - cover2
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 3
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 4
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 5
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 6
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - A Message from the President
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 8
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 9
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - Calendar/News
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 11
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - Maurice J. Gallagher, Jr. Honored for Excellence in Aviation
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 13
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 14
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 15
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 2015 Poised to be Strong Year for Global Leasing
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 17
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 18
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 19
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - Aircraft Finance Outlook: Boeing's 2015 Perspective
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 21
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 22
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 23
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - Celebrating the Holidays with ISTAT
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 25
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 26
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 27
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 28
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - The Sweet Sound of the Drone
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 30
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 31
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - Aviation History
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 33
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 34
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 35
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - Q&A: Incoming ISTAT President Marc S. Allinson
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 37
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 38
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - Can the Commercial Aircraft Backlog Withstand 50% Lower Fuel Prices?
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 40
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - Aircraft Appraisals
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 42
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - ISTAT Foundation
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 44
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - 45
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - Advertiser Index
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - cover3
Jetrader - Spring 2015 - cover4