Capsule Biographies

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Born at Knapps Creek NY, Jan 8, 1881. Died Jan 15, 1970.

William Piper first worked in construction, then in his family's oil business, before finding his calling in aviation.

Known as "The Henry Ford of aviation," Piper mass-produced affordable aircraft and is credited with popularizing airplanes as a method of personal transportation and as a hobby. Although he did not learn to fly until 1931, he entered aviation in 1929 by investing in the Taylor Brothers Aircraft Corp to build their Model E-2 Cub. By 1937, Piper had bought out the Taylors' interest in the company and established the Piper Aircraft Corporation to produce the famous yellow J-3 Cubs.

Popular for their simplicity and maneuverability, Piper Cubs were used as liaison craft, in photo-recon, and for training new pilots during World War II, numbering more than 14,000 before their production end. They were the matrix of his company, where he remained its president until his death.

Enshrined in National Aviation Hall of Fame 1980.


Born 1897. Died 1960.

Harold Frederick Pitcairn attended the Curtiss Flying School at Newport News VA in 1916 and graduated from the Army Air Cadet School in 1918. About 1923, he bought a large section of farmland in Horsham PA, north of Philadelphia, as base for his aviation research. There he and fellow aviation enthusiast Agnew Larsen experimented with rubber band-powered helicopters, which led to the issuance of 270 basic patents for vertical-lift and rotary-wing aircraft. By 1927 they had developed a flying model with 42" diameter rotor blades and carbon dioxide jets at the tips — it displayed amazing stability, and excellent auto-rotational characteristics.

Prior to that, Pitcairn launched his own aircraft manufacturing and flying service business, producing the five-place PA-1 Fleetwing in 1925. After winning a contract to carry the overnight mail between New York and Atlanta, in 1927 he designed and produced the Mailwing, a plane that became standard equipment in many other airlines. Faster, safer, and more efficient than any other aircraft on the market, pilots loved it because of its reliability and ruggedness.

Pitcairn to sold his fledgling air mail business to Eastern Air Transport-which would eventually become Eastern Airlines. Although the durable Mailwings would carry mail for several more years, the era of the single-engine, open-cockpit, mail-only plane would soon end At his Horsham airfield, Pitcairn helped develop the autogiro (or autogyro), a forerunner of the helicopter. This aviation phenomenon, with its uncanny ability to make steep takeoffs without danger of stalling and to land nearly vertically with no-roll landings, had been invented by Juan de la Cieva, an airplane designer for the Spanish Air Force. Recognizing the potential of this aircraft, Pitcairn bought the American rights to Cieva's patents and formed the Pitcairn-Cieva Autogyro Company of America for licensing the manufacture of the autogiro in the U.S. Pitcairn produced his own autogiros at his aircraft factory at Pitcairn Field. The first autogiro flight in the United States was made there on December 19, 1928. Exactly two years later, Amelia Earhart became the first autogiro pilot to carry a passenger there, flying a PCA-2 Pitcairn Autogyro and making several trips with various passengers until dark. It was only on the previous day, December 18, 1930, that she made her first solo flight, making her the first female to make a solo autogiro flight. Although the Autogiro did not become the commercial success that many hoped it would, the Pitcairn patents were purchased by Igor Sikorski and were used in developing the helicopter. For a while during the 1920s and 1930s many companies as well as the U.S. government utilized autogiros to perform a number of duties, such as carrying mail and news updates across many cities in the northeast. Authorized to experiment with any aircraft he thought useful for delivering mail, Postmaster General James Farley contracted for post offices in Camden, Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans and Washington, D.C., to use autogiros from their rooftops. The first delivery took place on May 25, 1935, when pilot Louis Levy landed on the roof of Philadelphia's main post office at 30th and Market Streets and handed Postmaster Farley a sack of mail. On July 6, 1939, Eastern Air Lines initiated five round-trip daily flights between Camden airport and the Philadelphia post office rooftop. This was the world's first scheduled commercial service using a rotary-winged aircraft. But after one of the autogiros fell from its rooftop perch, further flights were canceled. In 1928, Pitcairn flew a Cierva C-8 Autogiro in England and brought it to America. After exhaustive flight tests, Pitcairn began designing his own Autogiros, often improving on Cierva's technology, thus introducing the safest aircraft flown in this country. In 1929, the Pitcairn-Cierva Autogiro Company of America was formed to license the manufacture of Autogiros in this country under the de la Cierva patents. Being convinced that the future of aviation was with rotary wing, vertical lift aircraft, in July of 1929, Pitcairn sold his airmail line and his company, Pitcairn Aviation, to a syndicate of Curtiss Wright and General Motors for $2,500,000. The purchasers changed the name to Eastern Air Transport which eventually became Eastern Airlines in 1934. From then on Pitcairn and his staff devoted all their talents and energy to the Autogiro. Their efforts received recognition in the form of the highest honor in American aviation, the Collier Trophy for 1930, awarded for the development and application of the Autogiro. Presentation of the trophy was made by President Hoover on the lawn of the White House in 1931. Pitcairn's extensive experimentation improved flight characteristics, developed "jump takeoff," and designed the Roadable Autogiro, also on display at the National Air and Space Museum. Due to patent infringement by helicopter manufacturers and the government, Pitcairn instituted a monumental law suit which went all the way to the Supreme Court. After 28 years of litigation the court ruled that the rotarywing patents of the Autogiro Company of America had been infringed and Harold F. Pitcairn was granted the victory. During his lifetime, Harold Pitcairn and his associates pursued a dream of developing "The Safe Aircraft." Their vision and innovation had a profound and lasting impact on American aviation. Harold Pitcairn was the 14th recipient of the Collier Trophy.

Enshrined in National Aviation Hall of Fame 1995.


Born near Grand Saline TX, Nov 22, 1898. Died in Alaska, Aug 15, 1935

Wiley Hardeman Post lost his left eye in an oil field accident in the 1926 and used an $1800 settlement to buy his first airplane. After a tour of barnstorming, he first achieved national prominence in 1930 when he won the National Air Race Derby from Los Angeles to Chicago and its $7,500 prize.

In 1931, Post and navigator Harold Gatty flew around the world in his Lockheed Vega 5 Winnie Mae (named after his backer's daughter). The flight was not only a great technical achievement, but one which demanded extraordinary fortitude in the flight of 8d:15h:51m, which far surpassed the previous record of 21 days set in 1929 by the Graf Zeppelin.

In 1933 he duplicated his 1931 flight with a first successful solo around the world in Winnie Mae, which was upgraded with a Sperry automatic pilot, radio direction finder, and other then-new devices. The flight covered 15,596 miles in 7d:18h:49m and was perhaps the most remarkable display of flying endurance of the decade. During that period he also became noted for his experiments with Goodrich Co in high-altitude flight, in which he is generally credited with the discovery of the jet stream.

Post was considered one of the most colorful figures of early aviation. He set many records before being tragically killed near Point Barrow, Alaska, in 1935 in a crash which also took the life of his flying companion, humorist Will Rogers. His aerial achievements proved that shrinking the globe was as much a test of human endurance as a display of technological progress.

  -- Around the World in Eight Days; Wylie Post & Harold Gatty (? 1931)

Enshrined in National Aviation Hall of Fame 1969.