Photograph by Kenneth Fietz
Photograph by Kenneth Fietz
Welcome to the Holy Grail of Aircraft Restorations.
In 2010, I was attending the Sun & Fun Airshow in Lakeland Florida and was surprised to see this beautifully restored PA-18. I had heard of the restoration effort but had not imagined I would be fortunate enough to see this fine aircraft. To add to the days good fortunes, I was able to speak to the owner, pilot and restoration crew about the aircraft. The pictures on this page were taken on that very special day. The information is from my personal discussion with the restorers, their reference materials and other sources listed at the end of this page. I hope you enjoy this great aircraft as much as I did. It is a one of a kind.
This particular PA-18, Serial Number G-65, assumed the honors as the personal aircraft of Pitcairn Autogiro Company president Harold Pitcairn. From 1932 through 1935 the aircraft also performed duties as a company demonstration aircraft.
Pitcairn Autogiro Company, Willow Grove Pennsylvania, produced approximately nineteen tandem seat PA-18 aircraft between March of 1932 and and the end of 1933. The aircraft was priced at $6,750 including pilot training. Pitcairn introduced the PA-18 as a sport model autogiro a sort of model T of the skies for those with the money. A difficult sale following the depression and one of the reasons for the smaller size of the aircraft. The original PA-18 autogiro’s used conventional airplane flight controls of rudder, aileron and elevator for control. The PA-18 in this tribute utilizes these same control features.
Photograph taken from teams display, original provided by Steve Pitcairn, digital copy by Kenneth Fietz.
Aero-TV:Aero-TV: Profiles in Aviation - Pitcairn PA-18 Autogiro (Part 1)
Pitcairn PA-18 video provided by Aero-News TV.
Photograph from teams build log, by Kenneth Fietz
Aircraft Performance:Maximum speed: 95 mph Range: 225 miles Service ceiling: 12,000 ft
Aircraft Data:Crew: One pilotCapacity: 1 passengerLength: 19 ft 5 in Wingspan: 21 ft 3 in Main rotor diameter: 40 ft 0 in Main rotor area: 1,260 ft² Powerplant: 1 × Kinner R-5, 160 hp
Photograph from teams restoration log, Kenneth Fietz.
On October 22, 1935 Miss Anne West Strawbridge puchases the aircraft and makes her first solo in June of 1936 at the age of 53. To meet a wartime demand, Pitcairn attempted to purchase back all of the PA-18’s to be used in England at the outbreak of World War II. Miss Strawbridge refused to sell her aircraft back to the Pitcairn company.
The Pitcairn factory was converting the aircraft to direct control to be used as observation aircraft. Upon completion of the modifications the aircraft were loaded aboard a cargo ship to England. The squadron of aircraft never arrived as the ship was sunk by a German U-boat sending all aircraft to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
Miss Strawbridge continued to fly the autogiro until 1941 when in September she passes away at the age of 58. Three weeks prior to her death Anne admitted herself to a hospital and willed the aircraft to a relative, John Strawbridge.In the interim years following the death of Miss Strawbridge the aircraft changed ownership several times over until October 19, 1945. On this date, the aircraft returned home to Willow Grove to G&A Aircraft Company (the new company who assumed the build rights to Pitcairn Aircraft) for the cost of $225.00. G&A later became Firestone Aircraft which repaired the aircraft following damage from a windstorm according to aircraft records.
Photograph by Kenneth Fietz
March 15, 1947. The PA-18 is purchased by Sky Voice Inc. of East Orange New Jersey who intends to use the aircraft for banner towing and use a megaphone along the Jersey shoreline for publicity purposes. There are no known references as to wether the aircraft actually used for this purpose. In 1951, the Wyoming Valley School of Aviation purchases the aircraft but soon after the school soon folds.
1954, Marlin Air Service sells the aircraft to Ted Sowirka who transports the ship to Old Star Airport in Langhorn, Penn. Initially the rotors are stored in a hangar while the fuselage was being kept outdoors. The mast, rotorhead and pylon were stolen from the ship and Sowirka moves the ship into the hanger.
August 1996, after storing the aircraft for over forty years Mr. Sowirka sells the aircraft to Al Lechter of Mojave California.
November 9, 1999. Lechter sells the aircraft to Jim Hammond, Jack Tiffany and the Leading Edge Aircraft crew. Tiffany, Herman Leffew, Don Siefer, Kate Tiffany and Herb Ware set out to Mojave, California to recover the aircraft. The crew returns the autogiro to New Carlisle Ohio with the intent to restore the aircraft by the year 2003 for the 100th anniversary of flight.
July 10, 2008. After more than 8,500 man hours and nine years of restoration, the PA-18 takes to the air for the first time since the nineteen forties. Piloted by Andrew King.June 23, 2009. The autogiro departs for Oshkosh Wisconsin where it lands the following day and is displayed at Pitcairn hangar on Pioneer Field.
Sun & Fun Airshow 2010. Jack Tiffany and crew bring the aircraft to Lakeland, Florida for display and demonstration. For several days following the start of the airshow the wind was too strong for the PA-18 to take to the air. Then on the last day that the crew could remain at the airshow the weather gave a break to the winds and the PA-18 took to the skies again. A special day, a special team and a very special aircraft.
Aero-TV:Aero-TV: Profiles in Aviation - Pitcairn PA-18 Autogiro (Part 2)
Many thanks to Aero-News TV for providing this video.
Photographs by Kenneth Fietz.
On a personal note I would like to thank Mr. Tiffany and his restoration team for their time in showing me the aircraft, answering many questions and allowing me access to take these pictures some of which are taken from Mr. Tiffany’s build log of the actual restoration. Thank you for making history fly.
Photograph by Sheila Fietz
In regards to following individuals, Misters Jack Tiffany and Jim Hammond wish to thank and acknowledge those who helped make this restoration possible…Herman Leffew, Don Siefer, Jerry Leffew, Jerry Pruden, Nick Hurm.Master Craftsmen: Phil Riter, Ted Teach, Tate Gabbert, Bill Kirnec, Bill Brucken, George Medve, Jan LeValley.Support: Al Lechter, Steve Pitcairn, Mike Posey, Andrew King, John Webber, Levens Aviation, Sparky Barnes, Al Ball, Brad Ball, Steve Roth, Jeff Crabtree.
Notes, photographs and conversation with Mr. Jack Tiffany and Herman Leffew and the Leading Edge Crew.
Wikipedia- Pitcairn PA-18, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitcairn_PA-18
“The Helicopters” by Warren R. Young and the editors of Time-Life Books, ISBN 0-8094-3350-8.
“The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Helicopters” by Giorgio Apostolo, Bonanza Books, New York, 1984, ISBN 0-517-439352.
Thanks to Aero-News.net for the use of the video link on the Pitcairn PA-18. You can view their fine videos at Aero-tv.net.
FAA.gov website for TCDS research on the Pitcairn PA-18. I went there and yes they helped. Thanks for keeping these records open and available.