Harold Pitcairn

United States of America



Harold F. Pitcairn was born in 1897, the son of John Pitcairn Jr., a businessman from Philadelphia, PA.

Harold Pitcairn initially formed a company for aircraft operations before venturing into fixed-wing aircraft development, with the Pitcairn Aircraft Company.

He became interested in the autogiros being developed in Spain by Juan de la Cierva and subsequently purchased the rights to manufacture and develop these aircraft in the USA. On December 18, 1928, a Cierva C.8W assembled in the USA by Pitcairn's company (the Pitcairn Autogiro Company) became the first rotary-wing aircraft to fly in the USA.

Pitcairn subsequently developed a range of autogiros and related technologies and associated patents. Many of these patents would be used in developing the first helicopters to be built in the USA.

With the rapid increase in helicopter production towards the end of the Second World War, Harold didn't believe he was being properly re-imbursed by the U.S. Government for the use of the patents he held, and he subsequently sued the U.S. Government. Starting in 1951, this turned out to be the longest patent trial ever held in the USA, eventually being settled in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1977, 17 years after Harold's death.

Pitcairn was one of the founding pioneers in the autogiro industry and the patents he developed for rotary-wing technology had a pronounced impact on the fledgling rotorcraft industry.


Milestones associated with Harold Pitcairn
December 18, 1928 First flight of a rotary wing aircraft in the USA (Cierva C.8W)
February 14, 1929 Pitcairn-Cierva Autogiro Company of America formed
September 1, 1932 First flight of the Pitcairn PA-19 Cabin Autogiro
September 21, 1951 ACA commences its patent infringement case against the US Government
April 24, 1960 Harold Pitcairn dies