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After graduating from preparatory school, Pitcairn’s father paid for him to attend flight training and he eventually earned a pilot’s license signed by Orville Wright (Charnov, 2003). Pitcairn later volunteered to become an air cadet in the US military during World War I and completed military flight training. He never saw combat because the war ended before he reported to an operational assignment.

After being honorably dis- charged from the military, Pitcairn’s ingenuity and determina- tion helped to make him a success- ful businessman. Despite his suc- cess in the business world, he was never able to shake his fascination with aviation. In 1924, Pitcairn left his job and founded two compa- nies, Pitcairn Aircraft and Pitcairn Aviation.

Pitcairn Aircraft

designed several new fixed wing air- craft including the Mailwing series and also dabbled in rotary wing air- craft design. Pitcairn Aviation established a very valuable network of airfields and airmail routes. Upon hearing about the Autogiro in 1925 Pitcairn immediately became interested in the aircraft and met personally with Cierva in Madrid later that year. Pitcairn kept a close eye on Autogiro devel- opments and two more meetings occurred in 1928. The outcome of these meetings was that Pitcairn secured the American licensing and manufacturing rights to the Autogiro and all of Cierva’s patents for $300,000.

The Cierva

Autogiro Company would get reciprocal rights to any patents that Pitcairn would later obtain.


Pitcairn-Cierva Autogiro Company was set up in the United States to do research and development and license Autogiro patents for US manufacturing (Charnov, 2003). Pitcairn became a director of the Cierva Autogiro Company and Juan de la Cierva became a director of the Pitcairn-Cierva Autogiro


Company. Harold Pitcairn also received a Cierva C.8 Autogiro which he brought back to America. The C.8W (W because a Wright engine had been put into this Autogiro) became the first Autogiro to fly in the United States on December 18, 1928. In order to finance the

Pitcairn-Cierva Autogiro Company, Harold Pitcairn sold all of Pitcairn Aviation’s valuable air- mail routes. This gave Pitcairn the necessary capital and the first licensee of the Pitcairn-Cierva Autogiro Company was Pitcairn Aviation. Autogiro development and demonstration was pushing ahead on both sides of the Atlantic. Prior to the Pitcairn-Cierva nego- tiations, Cierva incorporated lead and lag hinges to the Autogiro rotor head. These hinges allowed the blades to move fore and aft relieving pressure at the blade root. Cierva received his pilot’s license in 1927 and flew from London to Paris in 1928.

This flight was the

first rotary-wing crossing of the English Channel and the first international Autogiro flight (Charnov, 2003). For accom- plishing this flight, Cierva received the 1928 Lahm Prize from the Aero Club of France. In 1929, the first


Pitcairn Autogiro, the PCA-1 flew. The PCA-1 was followed by the PCA-1A and the PCA-1B, both experimental models based on Pitcairn’s fixed-wing Mailwing designs. An improved version, the PCA-2 followed in 1930. The PCA-2 was the first original American Autogiro design and fea- tured a prerotator. The prerotator used a clutch to rotate the rotor head with the engine while on the ground. This was a major advance- ment that eliminated the need for ground taxiing to get the head up to speed for takeoff. Cierva promptly incorporated a similar feature in his later designs. In 1931, flying in a Pitcairn PCA-2, Amelia Earhart set a world altitude record. Earhart flew from Pitcairn Field in Willow Grove, PA and ascended to an alti- tude of 18,415 feet. This flight brought significant attention to Pitcairn and the Autogiro. Earhart would later fly a cross county Autogiro flight in a Pitcairn Autogiro sponsored by the Beech- Nut Packing Company. For devel- oping the Autogiro, Harold Pitcairn and his associates received the Collier Trophy from President Hoover in 1931. The trophy was awarded for the most significant aviation contribution in the pre-

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