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generous and patriotic offer was accepted by the government for the duration of the war plus six months. This offered expired in 1946, at which time some of the biggest heli- copter manufacturers continued to supply the government while using Pitcairn’s patents without properly compensating him. In 1951, after failing to reach an industry wide set- tlement, Pitcairn filed a lawsuit against the United States Government which had indemnified the helicopter manufacturers.


ensuing litigation became the longest patent suit in American history. It finally concluded in 1977 after reach- ing the Supreme Court.


received 14 million dollars in unpaid royalties and 17 million dollars in back compensation (Charnov, 2003). Unfortunately this settle- ment came nearly 17 years after Harold Pitcairn passed away. On July 22, 1960 Harold Pitcairn died in his home as a result of a gun shot. The events surrounding his death remain unclear and there is still some debate over whether it was an accident or suicide.

Autogiro technology advanced rapidly in the 1930’s with work being done in the United States and Europe. Advances in both control and capability were realized as the direct control and jump takeoff abil- ities were developed.

However, the

Autogiro never reached true vertical flight capability. By the end of the 1930’s the helicopter had become a reality and the Autogiro began to fade into aviation history. In the 1950’s there was renewed interest in autogy- ros. This resurgence in popularity was largely led by Dr. Igor Bensen and his Gyrocopter designs. Over the last fifty years many new autogyro models have been developed with varying lev- els of success. Today there exists a small but loyal and dedicated inter- national autogyro community some- what unified by the Popular Rotorcraft Association. A successful large scale American autogyro manu- facturing operation, as envisioned by Harold Pitcairn, never came to be. However, in many ways the rotary- wing aircraft industry that Pitcairn established in the Philadelphia area is still very much alive. Currently this area is home to several large helicop- ter facilities run by Augusta Westland, Boeing, Piasecki and Sikorsky. The influence of Cierva and Pitcairn’s innovations on the modern helicop- ter can not be overstated. The flap- ping hinges in the rotor head effec- tively solved the problem of dissym- metry of lift and made rotary-wing flight possible. The collective and cyclic controls are fundamental heli- copter design features. If the Wright brothers and their historic work made flight possible, then Juan de la Cierva

and Harold Pitcairn helped make helicopter flight possible. Without question the Autogiro occupies a sig- nificant place in rotorcraft history making these men true Rotorcraft Pioneers. ◆


Brooks, P. (1988). Cierva Autogiros: The Development of Rotary-Wing Flight. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Charnov, B. (2003). From Autogiro to Gyroplane: The Amazing Survival of an Aviation Technology. Westport, CT: Praeger. Gablehouse, C. (1967). Helicopters and Autogiros: A Chronicle of Rotating-Wing Aircraft. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company Smith, F. (1981). Legacy of Wings: The Story of Harold F. Pitcairn. Lafayette Hill, PA: T. D. Associates

LT Brad McNally is a 2001graduate of the United States Coast

Guard Academy. After serving two tours in Coast Guard Naval Engineering he attended Naval Flight Training in Pensacola, Florida. He was previously station at the Coast Guard Air Station in Atlantic City, NJ where he was an aircraft commander in the MH-65C Dolphin helicopter. He currently resides in West Lafayette, IN with his wife Monica and son Brett where he is assigned as a graduate student at Purdue University pursuing a Masters Degree in Aeronautical Engineering.

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