“By the middle 1920s the
produced NC12678, a
model PA- 18 powered
by a 160-hp Kinner
R- 5. This sporty two-seater was intended
to be more affordable
than the big PCA-2s,
and 19 PA-18s were
was typical for the
time—a welded steel
tube fuselage faired
with wood stringers,
tail surfaces also of
welded steel tube, and
wooden wings, the whole covered with fabric. The rotor blades had a steel
tube spar, with closely spaced ribs of 1/4-inch plywood, the front part
being sheeted with 1/16-inch ply and the trailing edge a steel V-shaped
channel, again the whole covered in fabric.
design was considered a
success, and soon a number of
‘windmill planes’ were built
by licensees of Cierva and fly-
ing around Europe under the
trademarked Autogiro name.”
Morlin Air Service sells
the ship to Ted Sowirka.
Sowirka stores the fuselage
outside. The mast and
pylons are stolen.
Sowirka sells the PA- 18
to Al Letcher of Mojave,
California after owning
the ship for 42 years.
The Piticairn PA- 18 returns to
flight following restoration
by Leading Edge Aircraft.
The Pitcairn is currently on display at the Champaign Aviation Museum in Urbana, Ohio.
The first owner of ’678 was Harold Pitcairn himself, who used it to commute from his home at Bryn Athyn to the factory in Willow Grove, and to
his summer home in Ocean City, New Jersey. In October 1935 the PA- 18 was
sold to Anne Strawbridge of Philadelphia, who learned to fly in the Autogiro.
She liked it so much that she refused to sell it back to the factory in 1940
when the Pitcairn company was buying back PA-18s to convert them to the
more advanced PA- 39 as submarine spotters for the British. This is one of the
reasons the aircraft survives today, as a number of PA-39s went to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean when their transport ship was sunk by U-boats
on the way to England.
It’s likely that the last time NC12678 flew was in 1941, shortly before
Strawbridge died at age 58. It passed through several owners in the following
years, but probably didn”t fly, although an airworthiness certificate was
issued in 1947. Then the old Pitcairn fell into disrepair and was spotted in
various stages of decay at airports in the Philadelphia area in the 1950s
before fading into anonymity, with only rumors of its survival continuing.
But survive it did, resting in storage in rural Pennsylvania for many years
before making its way to an owner in California in the late 1990s.
And this is where Jack Tiffany of Spring Valley, Ohio, comes into the story.