The date is July 9, 1931. Flying a Pitcairn autogiro, pilot James Ray provides a demonstration at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., and then adds publicity value by flying Senator Hiram Bingham of Connecticut on an 11-minute flight to Burning Tree Golf Club in Maryland. (Bingham was no stranger to adventure; in 1911 he had explored Peru and “rediscovered” the Incan city of Machu Picchu.)
Not quite an airplane and not quite a helicopter, the autogiro was the invention of Juan de la Cierva. The Spanish native had made his first, short, autogiro flight in 1923; in 1929 he partnered with Harold Pitcairn to market the autogiro in the United States. Pitcairn had envisioned the autogiro as an affordable aircraft that would be “secure and practical for recreation and utility.” At first the craft created a sensation, and in 1931 Pitcairn received the prestigious Collier Trophy for achievements in aviation. “The ability to land on and take off from any reasonably sized open ground with security frees the pilot from the necessity of seeking a safe landing only at the large airport,” read a 1932 advertisement. But the Great Depression put an end to any visions of an autogiro in every garage and Igor Sikorsky’s introduction of the helicopter in 1939 eclipsed Cierva’s invention once and for all.
It would still be a great way to get to the golf course though.
Our 9 best-selling history titles feature in-depth storytelling and iconic imagery to engage and inform on the people, the wars, and the events that shaped America and the world.