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In the 1920’s the Autogiro was the cutting edge of aviation tech- nology. A Spanish engineer by the name of Juan de la Cierva got the Autogiro into the air by solving sev- eral fundamental rotary wing flight problems. An American business- man by the name of Harold Pitcairn partnered with Cierva to bring the Autogiro to the United States and further developed it. Their work was sometimes collabo- ration and sometimes competition but it directly led to the develop- ment and rapid advance of the hel- icopter in the late 1930’s and 1940’s.


Juan de la Cierva was born in


Murcia, Spain on September 21, 1895. Cierva came from an upper- class family due to the fact that his father was a successful lawyer and politician. The flight of the Wright brothers caused considerable inter- est in aviation across Europe and attracted Cierva’s attention while growing up in Madrid. At the time there were no aeronautical engi- neering colleges, so in 1911 Cierva entered the Civil Engineering College of Madrid. He graduated with the title of Engineer of Roads, Canals and Ports and would later be awarded an honorary degree in aeronautical engineering when such a program was established (Charnov, 2003). While attending college, Cierva and several of his friends purchased the wreckage of a crashed Sommer biplane. Despite their very limited funds and experi- ence, they were able to restore the plane thanks in large part to Cierva’s ability to carve a new pro- peller. Drawing on the group members’ initials, the plane was dubbed the BCD-1. The BCD-1 was the first airplane constructed in Spain earning Cierva the title of “Father of Spanish Aviation.” An improved racing version, the BCD- 2 followed. In 1918, the Spanish government wanted to expand its military aviation capability and cre-


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