Harold Frederick Pitcairn

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Harold Frederick Pitcairn
Harold Frederick Pitcairn portrait in 1930 with the Collier Trophy.jpg
Pitcairn in 1930 with the Collier Trophy at the White House
BornJune 20, 1897
Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania
DiedApril 24, 1960(1960-04-24) (aged 62)
Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania
OccupationAviation designer
ChildrenJoel, John, Charis, Stephen, Robert, Judith, Bruce, Edward
Official nameHarold F. Pitcairn
DesignatedApril 29, 1972[1]
LocationBuck & Paper Mill Rds., Bryn Athyn
A Pitcairn Mailwing displayed at the Air and Space Museum in Washington DC.

Harold Frederick Pitcairn (June 20, 1897 – April 24, 1960) was an American aviation inventor and pioneer. He played a key role in the development of the autogyro and founded the Autogiro Company of America. He patented a number of innovations relating to rotary wing aircraft.[2]


He was born on June 20, 1897 in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania.[2]

Pitcairn's start in aviation was as an apprentice at Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company[3] He attended the Curtiss Flying School in Newport News in 1916.[4]

Pitcairn founded Pitcairn Aviation (later to become Eastern Airlines), and Pitcairn Aircraft Company which manufactured efficient airmail biplanes, and autogyros. He bought the right to license Juan de la Ciervas patents for the United States for $300,000 in 1929.[5]

He was awarded the Collier Trophy in 1930 for development of the autogyro.[6] USA President Hoover awarded the trophy on the lawn of the White House in 1931, where a Pitcairn PCA-2 landed as the first aircraft ever.[5]

On April 24, 1960 he committed suicide at his home in Philadelphia shortly after a party celebrating his brother's birthday.[5][2]


More sympathetic sources and the police report said the death was accidental and was caused by a faulty Savage Model 1907 0.32 automatic pistol.[7] Pitcairn was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1995.[4] In 1977, 17 years after his death, the Supreme Court of the United States awarded Pitcairn $32 million from the US government for rotorcraft control surfaces patents used by military rotorcraft.[5][8]


  1. ^ "PHMC Harold F. Pitcairn". Retrieved 2 April 2017.
  2. ^ a b c "Harold Pitcairn Takes Life At 62. Plane and Autogiro Pioneer Shoots Himself at Home in Philadelphia Suburb". Associated Press in the New York Times. April 24, 1960. Harold F. Pitcairn, noted aviation pioneer, took his life with a single pistol shot early today. Only a few hours before he had been notably gay at a party celebrating the seventy-fifth birthday of his brother Raymond. ...
  3. ^ Pattillo, Donald M. (1998). A history in the making: 80 turbulent years in the American general aviation Industry (1st ed.). McGraw-Hill Professional.
  4. ^ a b "Harold Pitcairn". The National Aviation Hall of Fame. Retrieved 5 April 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d Charnov, Bruce H. Cierva, Pitcairn and the Legacy of Rotary-Wing Flight Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine. Hofstra University. Accessed: 22 November 2011.
  6. ^ "Collier Trophy". Retrieved 2007-10-11.
  7. ^ Frank K. Smith. Legacy of Wings, The Harold Pitcairn Story.
  8. ^ "Rotorcraft pioneers". Retrieved 23 January 2011.

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