Lawrence Sperry

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Lawrence Sperry
Born (1892-12-21)21 December 1892
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Died 13 December 1923(1923-12-13) (aged 30)
English Channel
Known for invention of the first autopilot and artificial horizon
Lawrence Burst Sperry.jpg

Lawrence Burst Sperry (21 December 1892, Chicago, Illinois, United States – December 13, 1923, English Channel) was an aviation pioneer.


He was the third son of gyrocompass co-inventor Elmer Ambrose Sperry and his wife Zula.[1] Sperry invented the first autopilot, which he demonstrated with startling success in France in 1914. Sperry is also credited with developing the artificial horizon still used on most aircraft in the early 21st century.[2]

On 13 December 1923 Sperry took off amid fog in a Verville-Sperry M-1 Messenger from the United Kingdom headed for France but never reached his destination.[3] His body was found in the English Channel on 11 January 1924.


A website using the name Mile High Club regards the "Club's" "founder" as pilot and design engineer Lawrence Sperry[4], along with "socialite Mrs. Waldo Peirce"(Dorothy Rice Sims) [5] citing their flight in an autopilot-equipped Curtiss Flying Boat near New York in November 1916.[6][7][8]

"Why, Mrs Peirce and I didn’t have what you might dignify by calling a real accident. It was only a trivial mishap. We decided to land on the water and came down perfectly from a height of 600 feet and would have made a perfect landing had not the hull of our machine struck one of the stakes that dot the water, which staved a hole in it."[7]

Sperry was inducted into the Naval Aviation Hall of Honor at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida, in 1992.

Sperry Award winners[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Elmer Sperry Dies. Famous Inventor". New York Times. June 17, 1930. Retrieved 2012-12-21. Another son, Lawrence B., lost his life in 1925 while flying over the North Sea in a plane of his own design. ... 
  2. ^ Scheck, William, Lawrence Sperry: Autopilot Inventor and Aviation Innovator,, reprint of November 2004 article in Aviation History, retrieved 21 March 2009
  3. ^ "NO TRACE OF SPERRY; PLANE FOUND INTACT; Machine Landed Neatly in the Calm Sea and He Could Have Clung to It. MAY HAVE TRIED TO SWIM Hunt Is Abandoned, but His Wife and Friends Here Are Still Hopeful.". The New York Times. December 15, 1923. 
  4. ^ Sperry Inc. History. Retrieved on 2011-11-17.
  5. ^ About MHC: Founding Member. (1997-10-13). Retrieved on 2011-11-17.
  6. ^ "FROM HER SICK BED PLANS NEW FLIGHTS; Mrs. Pierce(sic), in a Plaster Cast, Gives Orders to Have Her Aeroplane Ready. TELLS OF FALLING 800 FEET; Aviatrice Says it Was 'Very Funny' When She and Sperry Went Into the Water Off Babylon.". The New York Times. New York, New York. November 28, 1916. p. 24. Although she fell 800 feet in a hydro-aeroplane and was held fast for more than a minute in mud and wreckage seven feet under water, and suffered a fracture of the pelvis and other injuries, Mrs. Waldo Pierce(sic), daughter of Mrs. Isaac L. Rice, donor of the $1,000,000 fund for the Isaac L. Rice Hospital for Convalescents, has no intention of giving up flying. 
  7. ^ a b – The First at a "Mile-High"
  8. ^ John Baxter (10 February 2009). Carnal Knowledge: Baxter's Concise Encyclopedia of Modern Sex. HarperCollins. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-06-087434-6. Retrieved 24 December 2011. 

External links[edit]

1938 Lawrence Sperry Award Certificate