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Pitcairn PCA-2 “Autogiro”
Three-seat open cockpit Autogiro

Archive Photos ¹

Pitcairn PCA-2 “Autogiro” (N799W, c/n B-6, 1931) c.2004 on display at the Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan (John Shupek photo copyright © 2004 Skytamer Images)

Overview ²

  • Pitcairn PCA-2 Autogiro
  • Role: Utility autogiro
  • National origin: United States of America
  • Manufacturer: Pitcairn Aviation Inc.
  • Designer: Harold F. Pitcairn
  • First flight: 1931
  • Number built: 20-30

The Pitcairn PCA-2 was an autogyro developed in the United States in the early 1930's, Harold F. Pitcairn's first autogyro design to sell in quantity. It had a conventional design for its day, an airplane-like fuselage with two open cockpits in tandem, and an engine mounted tractor-fashion in the nose. The lift by the four-blade main rotor was augmented by stubby, low-set monoplane wings that also carried the control surfaces. The wingtips featured considerable dihedral to act as winglets for added stability.

The Pitcairn PCA-2 was the first rotary-wing aircraft to achieve type certification in the United States, and was used in a number of high-profile activities including a landing on the White House lawn, and the first flight across the United States in a rotor-craft. This latter feat was attempted by Amelia Earhart, flying for the Beech-Nut food company, but was actually accomplished by John M. Miller who completed his flight nine days before Earhart on 28 May 1931, in his Pitcairn PCA-2 named “Missing Link”. Learning of Miller's achievement upon her arrival in California, Earhart set out to turn her flight into a round-trip record by flying east again, but abandoned the attempt after three crashes. Earhart set an altitude record in a Pitcairn PCA-2 on 8 April 1931 with a height of 18,415 ft (5,615 m). This record was broken in another Pitcairn PCA-2 by Lewis Yancey who flew to 21,500 ft (6,600 m) on 25 September 1932.

In 1931, the Detroit News made history when they bought a Pitcairn PCA-2 for use as a news aircraft due to its ability to fly well at low altitude, land and take off from restricted spaces, and semi-hover for better camera shots. This Pitcairn PCA-2 was the ancestor of today's news helicopters. In May 1933, Scripps donated the autogyro to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

The Champion spark plug company operated a Pitcairn PCA-2 as a promotional machine in 1931 and 32 as “Miss Champion”. It was flown over 6,500 miles in the 1931 Ford National Reliability Air Tour. This machine was restored to flying condition in 1982 by Steve Pitcairn, Harold’s son. In 2005, he donated it to the EAA AirVenture Museum. Other Pitcairn PCA-2's are preserved at The Henry Ford Museum and the Canada Aviation Museum.

Variants ²

  • PCA-2: Major production version.
  • PCA-3: Version with Pratt & Whitney Wasp Junior engine and 48-ft (14.63-m) rotor (1 built)
  • PA-21: Version with Wright R-975-E2 engine.
  • OP-1: Reconnaissance autogyro (1931).
  • OP-2: Reconnaissance autogyro without wings.

Specifications (PCA-2) ³


  • Three-seat open cockpit Autogiro

Rotor System:

  • Consists of a ball-bearing rotor-hub mounted at the apex of a three-legged pylon.
  • Check cables to the rotor blades are attached to a cone mounted on the hub.
  • The blades consists of a tubular steel spar, upon which are mounted wooden ribs, a plywood leading-edge, the whole being covered with fabric.
  • The cable interbracing of the blades anchored to oleo dampers mounted on each blade.
  • The blades are started by a mechanical starter driven by the engine, which automatically disengages when desired rotor speed is obtained.
  • A rotor-brake, actuated by the pilot, is also provided.

Fixed Surface:

  • Single fixed wing.
  • Modified M3 wing-section.
  • The wings are attached to the lower longerons of the fuselage by steel hinged fittings and braced to the undercarriage and the top longerons by streamlined tie-rods.
  • Structure consists of box-spars and ribs and is braced internally by time-rods and compression ribs.
  • The leading-edge is covered with plywood, and the whole wing is fabric-covered.
  • The ailerons, of the “Frise” type, are of wood, with fabric covering.


  • Rectangular cross-section structure, built up of welded square steel tubular longerons and round tubular bracing, faired with duralumin faring strips and covered with fabric.

Tail Unit:

  • Normal monoplane type.
  • All surfaces are constructed of welded steel tubes and covered with fabric.
  • Adjustable tailplane.


  • Wide-track divided type.
  • Consists of two oleo legs, the lower ends of which are changed to two “N”" struts, braced to fuselage and fixed wing by short axles and radius-rods.
  • Wheel brakes.
  • A full swiveling tail-skid is sprung with rubber shock-rings.

Power Plant:

  • One Wright Model R-975, nine-cylinder air-cooled radial engine, rated at 300 hp at 2,000 rpm, on an engine-mounting which is integral with the fuselage.
  • Two fuel tanks, with a capacity of 52 US gallons, are located approximately on the center of gravity.
  • A 6 US gallon oil tank is mounted just aft of the engine.
  • Adjustable blade metal airscrew.
  • Heywood starter.


  • Adjustable pilot's seat in the rear cockpit and accommodation for two passengers, side-by-side, in the front cockpit.
  • Controls are of the conventional column and petal type, connected to the control surfaces by cables.
  • Dual control fitted if desired.
  • Brakes are controlled by pedals adjoining the rudder-pedals.
  • A compartment is provided for light luggage.
  • Navigation lights are provided.


  • Span (rotor): 45 ft (13.7 m)
  • Span (fixed wing): 30 ft 33/8 in (11.38 m)
  • Length overall (excluding rotor): 23 ft 1 in (7.65 m)
  • Height: 13 ft 2 in (4.01 m)
  • Wheel track: 13 ft 3 in (4.04 m)


  • Fixed wing area: 88 ft² (8.17 m²)

Weights and Loadings:

  • Weight empty: 2,025 lb (919 kg)
  • Crew: 157 lb (79 kg)
  • Fuel and oil: 357 lb (162 kg)
  • Pay load: 448 lb (203 kg)
  • Weight loaded: 3,000 lb (1,363 kg)

Performance: ²

  • Maximum speed: 120 mph (190 kmh)
  • Range: 290 miles (466,7 km)
  • Service ceiling: 15,000 ft (4,575 m)


  1. Photos: Shupek, John A., copyright © 2004 Skytamer Images
  2. Wikipedia, Pitcairn PCA-2
  3. Bridgman, Leonard. (editor). “The Pitcairn PCA-2 Autogiro”, Jane's All The World’s Aircraft 1931, Sampson Low, Marston & Company, Ltd., London, 1931, page 306c-307c

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