Pitcairn Aircraft Company

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Pitcairn Aircraft Company
Former type Aircraft Manufacturer
Successors Pitcairn-Cierva Autogiro Company, Company of America (ACA, Pitcairn-Larsen Autogiro Company, AGA Aviation Corporation, G and A Aviation.
Founded 1927
Defunct 1948
Headquarters Willow Grove, Pennsylvania
Key people Harold Frederick Pitcairn
Products Commercial aircraft
Subsidiaries Pitcairn-Cierva Autogiro Company
a PA-5 Mailwing in the Air and Space Museum

The Pitcairn Aircraft Company was an American aircraft manufacturer of light utility aircraft. An early proponent of the autogyro, the company, later known as the Autogiro Company of America among other names, would remain in business until 1948.

History[edit]

Harold Frederick Pitcairn, the youngest son of PPG Industries founder, John Pitcairn, Jr., founded Pitcairn Aircraft Company. The business started with the formation of Pitcairn Flying School and Passenger Service on 2 November 1924 which later became Eastern Airlines.[1]

In 1926, Pitcairn started Pitcairn Aircraft Company initially to build aircraft for his growing airmail service. He purchased a field in Horsham Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania and built Pitcairn Field no. 2.[2]

PCA-2

The first aircraft, a Pitcairn PA-1 Fleetwing was built at the Bryn Athyn field.[3] In 1927, Pitcairn brought aboard a friend and designer from his apprenticeship days at Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company, Agnew E. Larsen. Larsen left the Thomas-Morse Aircraft company to join Pitcairn.[1] In June 1927, the state of the art Wright Whirlwind powered Pitcairn PA-5 Mailwing was introduced for airmail service. The plane proved popular and was bought by thirteen other companies.[3] In 1928, Pitcairn purchased a Cierva C.8W and the American manufacturing rights from Juan de la Cierva for his autogiro designs[4][5] for $300,000.[6] In 1929, Pitcairn formed a separate patent holding company to build autogiros, the Pitcairn-Cierva Autogiro Company, which was later renamed the Autogiro Company of America. Kellett autogyros competed with, and eventually licensed production rights from Pitcairn-Cierva Autogiro Company for $300,000.[citation needed] As a part of the licensing agreement, Pitcairn used Cierva's copyrighted variant of the name Autogiro (capitalized and spelled with an i) as opposed to the currently more common spelling of autogyro which was initially used to bypass his copyright.

Licensed Kellet K-2
A restored PA-18

In 1929, three prototypes were built with one being demonstrated in the 1929 Cleveland Air Races. Following a fire in November 1929, The first PCA-1 was built and tested the same month.[7] In June 1929,Clement Keys personally bought all the shares of Pitcairn Aviation (The airline and flying school) for 2.5 million dollars, and resold them two weeks later to North American Aviation, which renamed the company Eastern Air Transport, and finally Eastern Airlines.[8] From this point on, Pitcairn focused on autogiros.

In 1931 the company was renamed to the Autogiro Company of America (ACA).[7] In 1931, The Detroit News made history when they bought the first Pitcairn PCA-2 for use as a news aircraft due to it ability to fly well at low altitude and speed, land and take off from restricted spaces and semi-hover for better camera shots. This PCA-2 was the ancestor of today's news helicopters.[9] Also in 1931, pilot James G. Ray landed an autogiro on the South lawn of the White House. Harold F. Pitcairn, the pilot and three other company members of the Pitcairn-Cierva Autogiro Company were present to receive the Collier Trophy for their development of the autogyro.[10]

In 1932, autogyro inventor Cierva was greeted by U.S. President Herbert Hoover, who predicted in the future we would have large transport autogyros.[11] Amelia Earhart borrowed a company Pitcairn PCA-2 model. She arranged for the National Aeronautics Association to monitor the flight. Members of the New York press and Movietone News were invited to watch. On her second flight, she remained airborne for about three hours and set a woman's autogiro altitude record of 18,415 feet. Later she toured the country for Beech-Nut Packing Company in a bright green autogiro. On the return trip she crash landed in Abilene, Texas earning her a reprimand from the United States Department of Commerce. A second crash at the Michigan state fair, caused an unintended injury of her husband's ankle as he ran to the scene.[12]

In 1933, the parent company and conventional aircraft manufacturing arm, Pitcairn Aircraft Company merged with the autogiro arm, following the end of Mailwing production, and contract air-mail flights.

On December 9, 1936 Juan de la Cierva died in a crash of a KLM DC-2.[6] As a member of the board of directors of the Cierva Autogiro Company, Pitcairn was shocked to learn shortly afterward that the company had also licensed technology in Europe to the German Focke Achgelis Company creating competition to the autogiro with a practical helicopter, the Focke-Wulf Fw 61.[13]

In 1938, the company was renamed to the Pitcairn-Larsen Autogiro company, and again in 1940 to the AGA Aviation Corporation.[3]

In 1942, Pitcairn sold his airfield and facilities to the United States military for $480,000, forming the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove. AGA Aviation was now renamed to G and A Aviation, and became part of Goodyear Tire and Rubber. Pitcairn reduced royalties for 19 in house patents and 145 licensed patents to subcontractors of the government during wartime. After 1946, other manufacturers continued to produce helicopters without paying royalties. The company was dissolved in 1948. Pitcairn continued to pursue litigation for use of the patents by other firms in 1951 that stretched into a 1977 Supreme Court Case awarding Pitcairn's estate[13] 32 million dollars.[6]

Military operations[edit]

The US Navy evaluated a PCA-2 in 1931, designated as Pitcairn OP on the aircraft carrier USS Langley (CV-1), to become the first rotory wing craft to land on a ship at sea.[14]

In 1940 6 Pitcairn PA-18 autogyros were converted to Pitcairn PA-39 models for convoy escorts for the Fleet Air Arm.[15]

Survivors[edit]

Pitcairn's influence on early airmail service and rotary-wing flight have inspired several museums to display Pitcairn aircraft prominently.

  • The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome has a Pitcairn PA-6 Super mailwing in Eastern Air Transport US Mail (CAM No 77) markings, painted black and yellow in one of their static display hangars.
  • The Virginia Aviation Museum has a Pitcairn PA-5 Mailwing in Eastern Air Transport US Mail (CAM No 27) markings, painted similarly to the Old Rhinebeck PA-6.

Aircraft[edit]

Summary of aircraft built by Pitcairn Aircraft Company
Model name First flight Number built Type
Pitcairn PA-1 Fleetwing 1926 - 5 passenger commercial biplane
Pitcairn PA-2 Sesquiwing 1926 1 Commercial Biplane
Pitcairn PA-3 Orowing 1926 35 Commercial Biplane
Pitcairn PA-4 Fleetwing II 1927 10 Sport Biplane
Pitcairn PA-5 Mailwing 1927 106 Commercial Airmail Biplane
Pitcairn PA-6 Super Mailwing 1928 - PA-5 mailwing modified with more cargo capacity
Pitcairn PA-7 Super Mailwing 1929 28 PA-6 mailwing with 3 passenger capacity
Pitcairn PA-8 Super Mailwing 1930 6 PA-7 mailwing with a Wright J-6 engine
Pitcairn PA-18 1932 51 Gyrocopter
Pitcairn PA-19 1933 1 R-975 powered autogyro with enclosed cabin
Pitcairn PA-20 1933 Kinner R-5 powered autogyro
Pitcairn PA-21 1932 R-975 powered autogyro
Pitcairn PA-22[17][18] 1932 1 Small wingless autogyro with folding rotors
Pitcairn PA-24 1933 1 twin tailed version of PA-20
Pitcairn PA-32 1932 Enclosed Biplane
Pitcairn PA-33 - Pitcairn YG-2 1935 1 US ARMY gyrocopter
Pitcairn PA-34 - Pitcairn XOP-1 1937 3 US NAVY gyrocopter variant
Pitcairn PA-36 1939 1 All aluminum bodied gyrocopter
Pitcairn PA-38 1939 0 military gryrocopter concept
Pitcairn PA-39 1940 6 Fleet Air Arm convoy escorts
Summary of aircraft built by Pitcairn-Cierva Autogiro
Model name First flight Number built Type
Pitcairn PCA-1 1930 Autogyro
Pitcairn PCA-2 1931 51 Autogyro
Pitcairn PCA-3 1931 1 Autogyro
Pitcairn PAA-1 1931 25 Sports autogyro
Pitcairn OP 1932 3 Autogyro
Summary of aircraft built by Autogiro Company of America
Model name First flight Number built Type
Autogiro Company of America AC-35 1936 1 Roadable Autogyro
Summary of aircraft built by Pitcairn/AGA
Model name First flight Number built Type
Pitcairn XO-61 1943 1 Autogyro

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Donald M. Pattillo. A history in the making: 80 turbulent years in the American general aviation ... 
  2. ^ Old York Road Historical Society. The Morelands and Bryn Athyn. 
  3. ^ a b c William F. Trimble. High frontier: a history of aeronautics in Pennsylvania. 
  4. ^ http://www.centennialofflight.net/essay/Rotary/autogiro/HE3.htm
  5. ^ "LOCAL FLYER MAKES GOOD". Los Angeles Times. Nov 9, 1930. 
  6. ^ a b c Charnov, Bruce H. Cierva, Pitcairn and the Legacy of Rotary-Wing Flight Hofstra University. Accessed: 22 November 2011.
  7. ^ a b Donald M. Pattillo. A history in the making: 80 turbulent years in the American general aviation. 
  8. ^ F. Robert Van der Linden. Airlines and air mail: the post office and the birth of the commercial. 
  9. ^ "Hover Plane and Camera Join News Staff", October 1931, Popular Mechanics
  10. ^ "RAY LANDS AUTOGIRO AT THE WHITE HOUSE AUTOGIRO LANDS AT WHITE HOUSE". New York Times. April 23, 1931. 
  11. ^ "HOOVER RECEIVES CIERVA.; Inventor Predicts Big Autogiro Transport Planes". New York Times. Jan 31, 1932. 
  12. ^ http://www.historynet.com/aviators-amelia-earharts-autogiro-adventures.htm
  13. ^ a b "rotorcraft pioneers". Retrieved 23 January 2011. 
  14. ^ "Autogiro Lands On Big Ships Deck", December 1931, Popular Science
  15. ^ "Pitcairn". Retrieved 23 Jan 2011. 
  16. ^ "Miss Champion". Retrieved 23 January 2011. 
  17. ^ "Small Gyroplane May Bring Flying For All" Popular Mechanics, June 1935
  18. ^ "Wingless Autogiro Parks Like An Automobile" Popular Mechanics, February 1935

"PITCAIRN TO DEVELOP AUTOGIRO IN AMERICA; Aviation Leader Announces New Concern to Promote Cierva Craft Commercially.". New York Times. Feb 17, 1929. 

Bibliography[edit]

Brooks, Peter W. Cierva Autogiros: the Development of Rotary-Wing Flight. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1988.

Gablehouse, Charles. Helicopters and Autogiros; A History of Rotating-wing and V/STOL Aviation. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1969.

Lightbody, Andy and Poyer, Joe. The Illustrated History of Helicopters. Lincolnwood, Ill.: Publications International, 1990.

Rotorcraft Flying Handbook. U.S. Department of Transportation. Federal Aviation Administration. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2000.

External links[edit]

External video
Pitcairn PA-36 jump take-off