December Contest Photo Pitcairn PA-39
February 1, 2021
Military interest in the autogiro centered on their use for surveillance and liaison. Only the Japanese succeeded in putting autogiros into service, and these, the Kayaba Ka-1, were for anti-submarine work from the escort carrier Akitsu Maru over the Tsugara and Korean channels.
The Kayaba carried a pair of 132 pound depth charges. The U.S. Army tested the Kellett YG-1B for artillery spotting in the mid-1930s, but found light planes would serve better. The British Avro Rota, a license Cierva C-30A, was tested with Army Cooperation Schools pre-war, but was changed to radar calibration duties with No. 529 Squadron at Halton from 1943 to October 1945 in support of the Chain Home and Chain Home Low radar system that protected Britain's coastline. The British tried again in February 1941 and ordered seven Pitcairn PA-39 autogiros.
Two were used for trials between October 1941 and April 1942 aboard the escort carriers USS Long Island and HMS Avenger for convoy protection. Rebuilt civilian PA-18s, they cost the Royal Navy $17,412 each, not counting $2020 for the Warner Scarab radial engine! Ironically, three others were lost when the SS Scottish Trader was sunk on 6 December 1941 by a U-boat torpedo. The two survivors arrived for testing with No. 74 Radar Calibration Flight at Duxford until retired due to
lack of spare parts. It was found that the up-and-coming helicopter, in the form of the Sikorsky R-4 and R-5, would serve much better and could be adapted to search and rescue roles.
The Pitcairn PA-39 in this Oshkosh photo, RAF serial number BW830, later registered N3908, survived World War II and by 1971 was registered to Gerald Bruener of Orinca, California. Stephan Pitcairn acquired it and donated it to the EAA Museum. The Museum also has a Pitcairn PCA-2 autogiro and a Sport Mailwing.
Three writers correctly identified the PA-39 with Deanna Bulthius of Minneapolis, this month's winner. A few thought it a Cierva, Don Juan de la Cierva being a pioneer
in autogiro design. Both Avro and Pitcairn, along with 10 other companies, held licenses from Cierva. Think spring. Blue skies and tailwinds.