Pitcairn Aviation

photo courtesy of the Glencairn & Cairnwood Archives

Harold Pitcairn, John and Gertrude’s youngest son, was born in Cairnwood in 1897. At a very young age Harold demonstrated a strong interest in aviation. He built his first experimental flying machine in the Cairnwood carriage house at age 13.  A pioneer in the practical applications of aviation, Harold opened Pitcairn Field in 1924, in Bryn Athyn. It was one of America’s first flying fields, complete with flying service, Pitcairn Aviation, Inc. (a pilot training school), and a clubhouse for the Aero Club of Pennsylvania. The first signature in the Pitcairn Field ledger belonged to Charles Lindbergh, later made famous for performing the first solo transatlantic flight in 1927.

Throughout his career Harold was a visionary and inventor. His contributions in the field of aeronautics represent the height of modern invention and luxury produced in the 1920’s and 30’s. Spurred by the spirit of innovation, he collected patents as early as 1926 and eagerly flew the first rotary-wing aircraft in American in 1928. In 1929 he founded the Pitcairn-Cierva Autogiro Company of America, which produced several superior models of Pitcairn design. During these years he developed the Pitcairn Mailwing planes, running America’s first airmail delivery routes.

In 1931 Harold was awarded top honors for his development of the American autogiro. He received the Collier Trophy for the year of 1930 from President Hoover on the White House lawn. Less than 30 years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight in 1903, he had established a thriving air-mail route from New York to Miami flying planes of his own design, later to become the foundation for Eastern Airlines.  His advanced Pitcairn Autogiro models were successfully manufactured and sold to society elite on both sides of the Atlantic. The ledgers of autogiro clients includes pilot Amelia Earhart and her husband George Putnam, R.W. Johnson (Johnson & Johnson company) and the Guiness family.

“Pitcairn Autogiro, making flyers of you and me…”
Pitcairn Aircraft, Inc. advertisement ca. 1930s