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In this 2005 photo, EAA Chairman Tom Poberezny (left) and Steve Pitcairn (right) are shown with Miss Champion in front of the Pitcairn Aviation Hangar at the EAA's Pioneer Airport in Oshkosh, WI.

Photos: Courtesy of EAA

degraded at slow speeds. Cierva was proposing the cyclic control that is found in modern helicopters. The new type of Autogiro would be called a direct control Autogiro.

Cierva also

realized that through the use of Pitcairn’s prerotator system the rotor head could be over spun to store energy that could be used to affect a jump take- off. In order to convert this energy to lift, the pitch of the rotor blades need- ed to be collectively increased.


would cause the Autogiro to lift verti- cally into the air. De-clutching the rotor head and engaging the propeller would allow the Autogiro to fly forward, in affect performing a vertical takeoff. This revelation significantly con- tributed to the collective control found in modern helicopters. Cierva shared his ideas with Pitcairn and the two worked to turn these ideas into reality. Despite their relationship as personal friends and joint business partners their companies soon began to work separately. Information and develop- ments did not flow easily between the two, especially coming out of England. Both firms were wary of the other and wanted to be the first to develop direct control and jump takeoff ability. Juan de la Cierva had perhaps his finest hour at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. On June 28, 1933, Cierva received the Daniel Guggenheim Medal

at Soldier’s Field in front of thousands of spectators. The medal was for the “World’s most notable Achievement in Aviation” and had only been previously awarded three times. The future of the Autogiro was drastically altered three years later. On December 9, 1936, Juan de la Cierva perished when the KLM DC-2 that he was flying in from London to Amsterdam crashed while taking off in low visibility conditions. Cierva was posthumously awarded the Royal Aeronautical Society’s prestigious Gold Medal. Fortune Magazine went as far as to proclaim Cierva’s Autogiro as “the only basic contribution to the art of flight since the Wright brothers rode a biplane into the air in 1903.” Harold Pitcairn wrote that “Juan Cierva will be known to enduring fame as the out- standing pioneer in the field of rotary- wing aircraft…All helicopters and simi- lar types of craft that have shown prom- ise of practical performance incorpo- rate some of the principles and inven- tions developed by Cierva (Charnov, 2003).” With Cierva no longer able to facilitate communication between the companies, Harold Pitcairn found it increasingly harder to get information on what was happening in England at the Cierva Autogiro Company. This was despite the fact that Pitcairn was a board member of the English company. A confrontation between Pitcairn and


the other board members ensued. Pitcairn was shocked to learn that the Cierva Autogiro Company had licensed its cyclic and collective control systems to Germany’s Focke Achgelis Company. Focke Achgelis subsequently used these licenses to build what is considered to be the first successful helicopter, the Fa-61. The Cierva Autogiro Company later received a license to build Fa-61 helicopter derivatives. This venture into helicopter manufacturing effec- tively ended Autogiro development at the Cierva Autogiro Company. Pitcairn returned to the United States undeterred and continued forging ahead with the Autogyro. Although direct control and jump

takeoff ability increased the Autogiro’s capabilities, the helicopter soon became reality and interest in the Autogiro faded. Government funding was fun- neled into helicopter development effectively cutting out the Autogiro companies.

Pitcairn’s Autogiro

Company of America was acquired by Firestone Tire and Rubber in 1942 and renamed G and A Aircraft. By 1948, after failing to market a successful heli- copter, G and A Aircraft was out of business (Charnov, 2003). At the beginning of World War II, the US gov- ernment was in need of places to train new pilots for the war effort and was preparing to acquire

the inactive

Pitcairn Field via eminent domain. In order to avoid the associated legal pro- ceedings, Harold Pitcairn sold the air- field outside Philadelphia that bore his name to the government for its appraised value. Pitcairn Field later became US Naval Air Station Willow Grove. In 1943 in an attempt to help the war effort, Harold Pitcairn offered to reduce the royalties on his 19 per- sonal rotary-wing patents and another 145 patents held by his company from 5% to .85% for any licensee supplying the US government. This incredibly

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