LeRoy Pennysaver & News

LE ROY PENNYSAVER & NEWS - NOVEMBER 5, 2023 by Lynne Belluscio Afriend of mine was in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and posted a photo of a Pitcairn Autogiro. I sent her back a note, that Don Woodward – the youngest son of the owner of Jell-O, had purchased a Pitcairn Autogiro. I remembered the photograph in Brian Duddy’s book, “Wings Over LeRoy.” Brian wrote: “As the flying season came to a close, the Woodward fleet had also evolved as aviation technology quickly changed. After departure of the Friendship*, Don purchased the first privately owned Pitcairn Autogiro in the east. This hybrid aircraft, a cross between a plane and a helicopter was quite a curiosity.” In the list of Woodward’s planes, the Autogiro is listed as a Pitcairn PCA-2 with a Wright J-6 engine but with an unknown registration number. I called Brian and asked him if he knew anything more about Woodward’s Autogiro, but he really didn’t. He mentioned that he had seen the restored Aurogiro at the EAA Museum near him and it was a pretty neat looking aircraft. The Pitcairn Autogiro is a rotary wing aircraft that has rotors on the top, but has a fuselage like a plane, not a helicopter. It derives lift as it flies into the air like an airplane, but as the rotors begin to spin, it stays in the air. There is no motor to the rotors like a helicopter. Several people had tried to design an autogiro, with little success. Juan de la Cierva in Madrid had designed an autogiro and in 1923, test pilot Lt. Gomez Spencer flew this early autogiro. In 1929, Harold Pitcairn bought the rights to Cierva’s autogiro. The Pitcairn Auto Gyro Company’s PCA-2 was the first autogiro certified in the United States. The fuselage was constructed of welded steel-tubing which was covered with dopedfabricandaluminum sheeting. Pitcairn started his aviation business in an airfield northeast of Philadelphia in Bryn Athyn. The Pitcairn Airfield was comprised of 190 acres. (Remember, Don Woodward opened the DWAirport in LeRoy, in 1928.) In 1930, Pitcairn gave a demonstration to Thomas Edison, who had been interested in a helicopter design for many years. Edison said that the Autogiro was the greatest advancement that could have been made in aviation. A year later, on April 22, 1931, Harold Pitcairn gave a demonstration to President Herbert Hoover, and landed his Autogiro on the lawn of the White House. Pitcairn, in an effort to promote his new airplane, hired Amelia Earhart to tour the United States in a Pitcairn Autogiro, sponsored by Beechnut Gum. Amelia Earhart, flying a Pitcairn PCA-2 Autogiro, set an altitude record of 18,415 feet in 1931. It is estimated that there were between 20 to 30 Pitcairn Autogiros built. Only two have survived. One is on exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit. It was owned by the Detroit News and used to take photographs from the air. It had a large, swiveling camera to take photographs and transported the photographer quickly to developing stories. The autogiro could hover and remain in one position while the photographer took the pictures. It was a great advertising piece for the newspaper and was in operation between 1931 and 1933. The Standard Oil Company of New York, known as Socony, also used a Pitcairn Autogiro to advertise their products. The Champion Sparkplug Company used the Pitcairn Autogiro to advertise their sparkplugs. It operated with the number 27 and was painted dark blue with bright yellow rotor blades and wings. On the side, painted in huge letters was “Champion.” Miss Champion was retired in 1932 and was placed on exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. After World War II, the museum sold the autogiro to A.K. Miller. He put it in a barn where it gathered dust until it was rescued by Steve Pitcairn, Harold Pitcairn’s son. In 1982, Steve had it restored to flying condition. In 1986, Steve Pitcairn flew Miss Champion to Oshkosh, Wisconsin to the big airshow. In September 2005, Miss Champion joined the permanent collection of the Experimental Aircraft Associaton’s AA AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh. There are some great videos online that show Miss Champion in the skies at the EAA field in Oshkosh. Their 2024 airshow is scheduled for July 22 through the 28. • The Friendship, was the tri-motor Fokker airplane which Don owned. Amelia Earhart had flown in the Friendship across the Atlantic. Don sold the Friendship less than a year after he had purchased it. Aerogyro