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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedThe everyman’s autogyro is back—the only one
By Randy Dufault, EAA AirVenture Today

Photo by Laurie Goossens
Pitcairn co-owners Jim Hammond and Jack
Tiffany are with Herman Leffew, one of the
project restorers.

July 28, 2009 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin - Jack Tiffany saw a Pitcairn Autogiro fly at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, as a small child, and as so often happens, the image of the experience has stayed with him ever since.

That imprinting turned into a nearly lifelong search to find a Pitcairn, specifically a Pitcairn PA-18.

“The PA-18 was meant to be everyman’s autogyro,” said Tiffany, of Spring Hill, Ohio.

“It was simple to fly and simple to maintain.”

His search was not easy.

Only 18 examples of the type were constructed, and in 1937 Pitcairn sought to buy back all of the PA-18s to refurbish and ship to Europe to support the growing war effort.

Thirteen of the ships ultimately came back to the factory. Twelve of those were refurbished, disassembled, crated, and packed onto a freighter headed into the war zone.

But the freighter never made it.

Sunk by a German U-boat, the ship went to the bottom of the Atlantic along with nearly all of the PA-18s in the world.

But not all the Pitcairn PA-18s.

Tiffany, finally, located the sole survivor of those original 18.

"This one was owned by Anne Strawbridge,” he explained. “She was the daughter of a department store magnate out on the East Coast—and she would not sell this one back (to Pitcairn).”

Good thing for aviation history.

Now fully restored and flying, the only remaining original 1932 PA-18 is on display here at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2009.

Tiffany owns the craft along with Jim Hammond.

At one point the PA-18 was disassembled and spent 42 years in a garage. A would-be restorer in Mojave, California, found out about it and made a purchase.

“(That owner) put an ad in Trade-APlane looking for autogyro parts, and my son, Nick, saw it,” Tiffany said. “One thing led to another, and we ended up with the project.”

Some key elements were missing from the craft, including its mast, masthead, and rotor blades.

“It was remarkably complete from the longerons down,” Tiffany said about the condition of the craft. “It had to be rebuilt, but at least we had patterns.”

“We finally found a mast and rotor head,” Tiffany added. “But there were two sets of blueprints for the masthead, the weldments that the rotor head sits on, and we built the wrong one first.”

Finished in factory-accurate orange, the craft was nearly ready to make its public debut last year at AirVenture.

“We had it flying last year.” Tiffany said. “There were some opinions that it would perform better if some adjustments were made. So I decided to add two degrees of incidence to the rotor blades.”

During flight testing, however, that small adjustment to the rotor blades proved disastrous for the Pitcairn.

It was going down the runway just ready for takeoff and the rotor broke and tore itself to pieces, Tiffany explained.

The damage went beyond what could be repaired in time for the convention.

“So we spent from July 15 to December 22 building four new blades.”

Now flying with new rotors and the original settings, Tiffany said it flies exactly as the 1932 book says it should on its 160-hp Kinner R-55 radial engine.

Andrew King, the craft’s only qualified pilot, characterizes takeoffs as if a Pterodactyl grabbed you and snatched you from the ground. According to Tiffany the craft flies just as soon as the rotor reaches 200 rpm, so you need to be ready.

The restored Pitcairn can be seen at EAA AirVenture on the front lawn in front of the VAA Red Barn.

Plans are for the rotorcraft to remain at Pioneer Airport in Oshkosh until the end of August.


FUTURE AIRVENTURE DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3; 2015: July 20-26; 2016: July 25-31; 2017: July 24-30
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