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Thu, Apr 03, 2008

Gone West: Autogiro Preservationist Steven Pitcairn

Worked To Further Legacy Of Father's Company, Aircraft

Aero-News learned with sadness this week that autogiro proponent Steven Pitcairn passed away Saturday, March 29, at the age of 83.

The Experimental Aircraft Association notes Steven was the son of Harold Pitcairn, the founder of Pitcairn Aircraft and the original license holder to built autogiro aircraft based on the designs of inventor Juan de la Cierva. A subsidiary of the aircraft manufacturer, Pitcairn Airways, was the founding company for what later became Eastern Airlines.

Building upon his father's legacy, Steve Pitcairn (shown above, with EAA President Tom Poberezny) was a successful businessman in his own right, and an aviation enthusiast in the broadest sense. As his resources allowed, he began to collect and have restored many of the aircraft built by his father’s company.

In a tribute to Steven on the EAA website, the organization recognized him as an active participant in both the research and restoration of his aircraft, noting he worked to ensure that the contributions of his family to aviation history would not fade from existence. The first to be restored was a PA-5 Mailwing.

Three of the aircraft built by his father’s company -- a Pitcairn PCA-2 autogiro, "Miss Champion," a PA-7S Sport Mailwing, and a PA-39 autogiro built for the Royal Air Force -- are now part of the EAA collection.

The Mailwing, NC95W, is a movie celebrity, having been used in a number of Hollywood movies, including Blaze of Noon starring William Bendix and Claudette Colbert.

The PCA-2 is one of only two remaining examples of the unique aviation artifact. Formerly owned by the Champion Spark Plug Company, and used for promotional purposes, it was later placed on display in Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. From there it went to a small museum and then storage area in Vermont, where it was discovered by Steven Pitcairn and restored with the help of George Townson, one of the pioneers of the autogiro era. When Pitcairn flew it to the EAA Convention in 1986, it was the hit of the event.

"Steve was a dedicated aviation historian and he exhibited a quiet passion for aviation," said EAA president Tom Poberezny. "He enjoyed sharing his passion with his fellow EAA members though his activities and when demonstrating the Pitcairn aircraft he brought to our convention. His contributions to aviation history and his willingness to share his expertise will be missed."

Steve Pitcairn was an active contributor to the EAA Aviation Foundation, on which he served as a director, and he continued to be an important and valued advisor and contributor to EAA’s programs. His generous underwriting of the construction of the Pitcairn Aviation hangar at EAA’s Pioneer Airport, which was dedicated in 1993, will long serve as a reminder of the legacy of the Pitcairn family, and of the generous spirit of Steven Pitcairn.

FMI: www.eaa.org, www.airventuremuseum.org/collection/aircraft/

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