Photo by Laurie
Pitcairn co-owners Jim Hammond and Jack
Tiffany are with Herman Leffew, one of the
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
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.
the freighter never made it.
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.
not all the Pitcairn PA-18s.
finally, located the sole survivor of those original 18.
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).”
thing for aviation history.
fully restored and flying, the only remaining original 1932 PA-18 is on
display here at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2009.
owns the craft along with Jim Hammond.
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
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.”
key elements were missing from the craft, including its mast, masthead,
and rotor blades.
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
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.”
in factory-accurate orange, the craft was nearly ready to make its public
debut last year at AirVenture.
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.”
flight testing, however, that small adjustment to the rotor blades proved
disastrous for the Pitcairn.
was going down the runway just ready for takeoff and the rotor broke and
tore itself to pieces, Tiffany explained.
damage went beyond what could be repaired in time for the convention.
we spent from July 15 to December 22 building four new blades.”
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
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
Pitcairn can be seen at EAA AirVenture on the front lawn in front of the
VAA Red Barn.
for the rotorcraft to remain at Pioneer Airport in Oshkosh until the end