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Above: Frank Gregory is shown making the first American shipboard helicopter landing in May of 1943. Gregory flew a Sikorsky XR-4 offshore into Long Island Sound to land on the Bunker Hill, a tanker ship which was fitted with a flight deck.


Below: Dr. Igor Sikorsky, standing on board the Bunker Hill in front of his XR-4, congratulates the XR-4 pilot Frank Gregory on Gregory's historic shipboard helicopter landing. Photos: Courtesy of the Sikorsky Historical Archives


made him ideally suited to be the senior officer in charge of the auto- gyro test program at Langley. Gregory and Lieutenant Erickson Nichols, the other test pilot, spent the next year evaluating the autogyros. The evaluation pro- gram consisted not only of flying these aircraft at Langley to deter- mine their flight characteristics, but also evaluating observation, com- munication and logistical issues through actual field use with Army ground forces. In 1937, the Army bought seven more autogyros and Gregory was chosen to head up a new school to train the pilots need- ed for a more extensive autogyro test and evaluation program (Gregory, 1944). The school was to be located at Patterson Field in Dayton, OH and would become the Army’s first rotary wing flight school. Gregory was quickly becoming one of the Army Air Corps’ experts on rotary wing flight. Overall, Gregory had a favorable impression of the autogy- ro. However, he could see that in the near future fixed-wing aircraft would have the capability to fly almost as slow as the autogyro could and what was really needed was an aircraft with true vertical and zero airspeed flight capability. In June of 1938 Congress passed the Dorsey Bill, named after Pennsylvania Congressman Frank Dorsey. This bill was the result of lobbying by the autogyro industry and it authorized two million dol- lars to be spent on the development of rotary wing and other aircraft. At about this same time, Captain Frank Gregory was transferred just a few miles from Patterson Field to Wright Field, home of the Air Corps’ Materiel Division. Gregory’s new assignment was as the project officer for the Air Corps’ helicopter program. This program was initially funded with money appropriated by the Dorsey Bill. The Army became the lead military service for helicopter development.


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