Amelia Earhart, John M.
Miller and the
First Transcontinental Autogiro Flight in 1931
Dr. Bruce H. Charnov
Based on the forthcoming FROM AUTOGIRO TO GYROPLANE: THE AMAZING SURVIVAL OF AN AVIATION TECHNOLOGY published by Praeger Publishers in June 2003 (ISBN 1-56720-503-8)
Pitcairn PCA-2 Autogiro during
Fall 1930 certification flight over West 11th St. near Wall Street. (Photo courtesy
of Stephen Pitcairn.)|
Even given the advent of the Great Depression, Pitcairn had reason to be optimistic about 1931. In December of 1930 Cierva had published1 a well-received article entitled "Uses and Possibilities of the Autogiro" in the American magazine Aero Digest with a representation of a PCA-2 flying over New York on the cover, and Amelia Earhart had become interested in the Autogiro. She had, after a single 15-20 minute flying lesson by Pitcairn factory test pilot J[ohn] Paul "Skipper" Lukens,2 soloed at the Pitcairn Aviation field at Willow Grove, PA. on December 19, 1930, thus becoming the first woman Autogiro pilot. Advertising for the Autogiro and the PCA-2 was just beginning and the public response was not long in coming. Pitcairn’s offices received deposits and advanced orders from individuals and corporations seeking the convenience, safety and publicity that seemed to accompany almost every Autogiro flight. The public’s enthusiasm for the Autogiro was further encouraged in March of 1931 when David S. Ingalls,3 the Navy’s only WWI ace and Assistant Secretary of the Navy published an article in Fortune entitled "Autogiros – Missing Link" asserting that "Inventor Cierva and Impresario Pitcairn offer the most promising new flying machine in the thirty-year history of aviation."4 It was heady praise, bolstered by the news that Pitcairn and his associates has been awarded the prestigious Collier Trophy for the greatest achievement in American aviation for 1930. Although Pitcairn had wanted the ceremony at a time convenient for Cierva to attend,5 it was President Herbert Hoover’s schedule that dictated the timing – which occurred on April 22, 1931 at the White House. Hoover, previously Secretary of Commerce under President Coolidge, had worked with Pitcairn in committees that had drafted aeronautical safety regulations, and followed the development of the Autogiro. He was keen to see an Autogiro and personally requested that ceremony be held on the back lawn of the White House so that an aircraft could land and provide a public demonstration of its unique flying capabilities. It was a publicity triumph, and Pitcairn made the most of it. As that was in many ways the most significant moment in the development of the Autogiro in America, it begins this book – but it was not the only Autogiro event to capture public attention that April. Although it is likely that only the most attentive readers noted the brief announcement that the PCA-2 had received ATC 410 on April 2, 1931, but the world took notice of Amelia Earhart’s altitude record on April 8, 1931.6
Pitcairn’s intent was to fan the public fires of Autogiro interest, and he set about the task with a creative ingenuity. He arranged for journalists to take rides in the PCA-2, and then used their columns in advertising to tout the revolutionary nature of Autogiro flight. Ernie Pyle had become the aviation editor for the Washington News in march 1928, and won a devoted following with his human interest stories as he became "one of the boys" in befriending the WWI pilots who constantly scrambled to make a living as cargo and mail pilots, and barnstormers who "gypsied from field to field, delighting crowds with wing-walks and offering thrill seekers their first flights for fees of a dollar a minute."7 Pitcairn arranged for Jim Ray to take Pyle for a ride, and the newsman, in turn, praised Autogiro’s performance in a column dated September 26, 1930. Pyle, who would go on to fame as a combat journalist in WWII before his death on the island of Ie Shima off the coast of Okinawa on April 18, 1945, quoted a flying companion (the front cockpit of the PCA-2 was a two-seater) as exclaiming ""That’s the kind of plane for you and me, Ernie, one that comes straight down and slow." That expresses the whole thing. It’s a great piece of machinery."
Such journalistic attention and acclaim attracted all sorts of aerial adventurers with proposals that ranged from the preposterous to the intriguing. Each was considered – a typical example was the proposal put forth by the well-known California author/adventurer Richard Halliburton, who would publish a series of books entitled Flying Carpet and Richard Halliburton’s Book of Wonders that would continue to engage the imaginations of primarily young boys for decades.8 Halliburton telegraphed Pitcairn on November 1, 19309 proposing that a PCA-2 Autogiro be made available for a "vagabond flight around the world by aeroplane." Halliburton had planned, and in fact, would make such a trip, flying a Lockheed airplane called the "Flying Carpet", sponsored by the Shell Oil Company and with contract to produce ten articles for the Ladies Home Journal and a book for Bobbs-Merrill Company entitled Flying Carpet. His appeal to Pitcairn was straight forward:
Pitcairn politely declined the offer, recognizing that the certification process would take considerable time, and, of greater importance, that a support network did not exist for the PCA-2. The Autogiro’s future could only be advanced when aviators could rely on its safety supported by a support system for service maintenance and repairs. But there is little doubt that the possibility of publicity was appealing.
“Jim” Ray taking off from a parking lot on the east side of the
Publicity stunts were designed to catch the public’s fancy. In addition to Ray’s "parking ticket" in Miami, Pitcairn had the pilot land in the parking lot on the east side of the U.S. Capitol Building to pick up Senator Hiram Bingham to fly him to a golf outing at the Burning Tree Country Club10 outside Washing-ton, DC. Pitcairn also had the PCA-2 photographed landing on the lawns of country estates, with many images of the aircraft landing at his own Bryn Athyn home Cairncrest, and flying off to hunting or fishing camps. His advertising agency commissioned paintings, used for magazine and sales brochure illustration, featuring the Autogiro landing at the country estate, at the foxhunt, at the Dude Ranch, and on the country club landing field having just deposited the handsome couple heading for the tennis court.11 But perhaps the most ambitious attempt to garner public attention was the attempt to have Amelia Eahart make the first transcontinental flight in an Autogiro in June, 1931. It did not, however, work out as Pitcairn and his associates hoped.
Pitcairn and Earhart’s husband, George Palmer Putnam,12 had seen to it that the world altitude flight in April had been well-covered by the news media, always eager to cover the achievements of the photogenic Amelia – such acclaim met each party’s needs and they sought to capitalize further with the first transcontinental flight. Seeing a publicity bonanza, the Beech-Nut Packing Company, offered Earhart the use of its previously ordered PCA-2 if she would fly it coast-to-coast with the company logo painted on its side and accompanying promotion efforts related to its chewing gum. Brokered by her husband, who was known for his acumen at garnering publicity, she promptly canceled her order in favor of the Beech-Nut Autogiro. However, as Beech-Nut was scheduled to receive the 13th production model, Earhart, superstitious about such things, requested that she receive a lower number and in fact received C/n B-12 (NC10780). She thus displaced United States Marine Corps Reserve Lieutenant John Miller, who had been the first individual to order a PCA-2 and for whom C/n B-12 had been confirmed!
John M. "Johnny" Miller, who would become a legendary pilot with an exceptionally long career that spanned eight decades (he was still flying at 98!) had been seduced by the lure of aviation by the time he was five years old, watching Glenn Hammond Curtiss,13 a fellow New Yorker from Hammondsport, on his flight down the Hudson River from Albany to New York City on May 29, 1910, (Curtiss would fly from the Morris Park racetrack in the Bronx, the first airplane flight within the city limits of New York City). The flight, taking just over three hours, would win the $10,000 prize offered by The New York World, and inspire the young Miller for a lifetime devotion to aviation. Miller would later write that, viewing the pioneer American aviator when he landed on the road across from the Miller farm to refuel the famous Hudson Flyer, "[t]hat was the day, at age four and three months, when I lost interest in becoming a steam locomotive engineer."14 Curtiss had, only the year before on July 17, 1909, electrified the public with a 25-mile flight around a circular course high above the Mineola, Long Island fairgrounds in Hempstead, New York, winning the Scientific American’s silver trophy.15 He would receive the Robert J. Collier Trophy in 1911 and 1912 –- the same award that would be won by Harold F. Pitcairn in 1930 for development of the Autogiro. When Curtiss subsequently moved to Garden City, established three local airfields, and a flying school/aircraft experimental site, Long Island, New York became a focal point for American aerial development. Charles Lindbergh would depart from nearby Roosevelt Field for Paris on May 20, 1927 - today, its landing strips are topped by the Roosevelt Field shopping mall and partially remain on the grounds of Nassau Community College and Hofstra University.16
By the time he was ten, Miller was hanging around the Curtiss Flying School at Mineola, New York on Long Island. In 1915 the young boy met Ruth Law,17 the third American woman to receive a flying license. Law had, in fact, been an eyewitness in July 1912 to the deaths of the first licensed American woman pilot, Harriet Quimby18 ("The Dresden China Aviatrice")19 and her manager W. A. P. Willard, when they were tossed out of her Blériot a thousand feet above Dorchester Bay, Boston, but that did not deter her commitment to aviation.20 Noted for her daring,21 she would be first woman to loop a plane22 – but on that day in 1915, when she encountered the ten-year old Miller, she talked about aviation and let him sit in the seat of her Wright Model B. It made an indelible impression on the future pilot who still described it 90 years later!23
Miller, by 1931 with a mechanical engineering education at Pratt Institute of Technology, Class of 1927, and seven years of flying experience, had become the first individual to purchase a PCA-2 for a cash price of the then sizable $15,000 plus "a little extra for an auxiliary fuel tanks and emergency flare racks for night flying."24 Upon ordering he had been informed that he would receive production model C/n B-12 in April 1931, by which it was anticipated the ATC would be granted (it was on April 2, 1931), a delivery date later postponed to May. At the time of his order, C/n 13 was in the production line, but no order had yet been received.25 Upon receiving confirmation of his PCA-2 order, Miller immediately began planning a transcontinental trip,26 a daring undertaking as no one had previously attempted such a long flight.27 It should be remembered that there were no established radio communication or navigation aides, neither established routes or traffic control and little available weather information other than often inadequate and infrequent advisories for a few frequent areas. That data which pilots now take for granted, weather fronts, air mass, wind conditions, route charts – all were in the future. Miller and other pilots flew with dated Rand McNally state maps and, if lucky, a few "strip" charts printed by the Army Air Service between their fields. And to top it off, Miller had to avoid rain as it would quickly imperil his life in cutting through the rotor blade fabric. This flight was to be in conjunction with a series of exhibition flights – and he kept sales and production officials, including Edwin T. Asplundh, fully informed of the flight plans.
Miller was understandably surprised when, in early May, he read in the New York Times of Beech-Nut’s intent to sponsor Amelia Earhart’s transcontinental flight! Flying to the Pitcairn Willow Grove field, he quickly discovered that the company had inserted Beech-Nut’s order ahead of his and that he was now to receive C/n B-13 (NC10781). This was clearly an attempt by the company to facilitate Earhart’s flight as the Beech-Nut order had been placed after Miller’s, and he later claimed that "the mechanics and the test pilots leaked the information to me that the sales manager had decided that he would rather have Earhart make the first transcontinental flight for better publicity coverage."28 Miller knew that he was merely regarded as an "unknown professional pilot without such publicity as Beech-Nut could provide" and also learned from the Pitcairn company pilots that Earhart’s final check ride was being delayed until her aircraft could be finished. Miller also later claimed that he spoke with Earhart several times while at the Pitcairn factory and that "she told them that she was not interested in all the aerodynamics and short landing procedures" but "she just wanted to fly it across the continent and then fly around the country for a Beech-Nut advertising campaign."29 So Miller resorted to subterfuge in the face of the company manipulation and announced that "if Amelia wants to make the flight she is welcome to it" but that he had to be in Omaha for the Air Races by May 17 or he would suffer a financial loss. He took a room at a local nearby tourist home and while waiting to take delivery of his Autogiro, received a check ride in the experimental PCA-1B, known as the "Black Maria" (X96N),30 by factory test pilot ‘Skip’ Lukens. Lukens took Miller on a single checkout ride, as he had previously done with Earhart, with five checkout practice landings – after that, Miller was given use of the Black Maria for practice during May 9 – 12, 1931 – he made 110 practice landings with a total of 5.5 hours of flying logged. This averaged out to flights of about 3 minutes along with practice in low cloud banks with the turn indicator. Finally, on May 14, 1931, he took delivery of his Autogiro, which he would name, presumably after the David Ingalls article31 in the March 31, 1931 issue of Fortune Magazine, the "Missing Link.". After five short test hops, Miller promptly left and headed west in PCA-2 NC10781.32
Miller was an experienced professional and aerobatic pilot and had gained extensive knowledge of the aerodynamics of the Autogiro from conversations with pilots Jim Ray, Skip Lukens, Jim Faulkner, and Pitcairn chief engineer Agnew Larsen. He would need all of his abilities for the trip west. While the normal cruising speed of the "Missing Link" was 100 mph, Miller flew at 90 mph to conserve fuel and break in the new engine. The Wright R-975-E, 330 hp, air-cooled radial engine consumed 18 gallons/hour, so Miller could only fly for three hours at which point he would only have 15 minutes of flying time on his fuel reserve. Navigation was by magnetic compass, following landmarks such as rivers or roads, and the pilot hoped that when a landing had to be made, there would be an airfield where the Rand McNally road maps showed one – it was not always the case. Miller discovered this at the end of the second day, during which he flew from Harrisburg to Chicago. He had flown seven hops, 11.3 hours over a route he had never flown before, aiming to land at Maywood Air Mail Field – but that airfield had been abandoned, and its replacement, later known as Midway Airport, was not yet finished or marked on the maps. Miller arrived at the site of the older field after dark and, after a perfect landing, located the new field, to which he immediately flew as he would have to refuel before continuing on. He napped on a workbench and, after refueling, left for Omaha at first light. He hadn’t even eaten. He then flew an additional seven hops, 7.2 hours flying and, after arriving at the site of the Omaha Air Races, flew an additional two hours and made 14 demonstration flights after arrival.
Miller remained in Omaha from May 16th until the 19th, and then left for San Diego. Headwinds kept him from reaching Clovis, NM on May 26th so he landed en route and installed extra fuel tanks on the front seat during the night. The next day he reached the NM town but encountered strong headwinds on the way to El Paso, which consumed extra fuel forcing him to land 18 miles short of his destination to add fuel. On May 28th he began the last leg of the journey from Lordsburg, NM before first light and, after flying 4 hops for 8.9 hours, landed at North Island Naval Air Station, San Diego, CA. The first Autogiro transcontinental flight had taken a total flying time of 43.8 hours and was without mechanical incident. The aircraft had performed flawlessly with the most difficult task for Miller seemingly to get used to the shadows of the blades passing over his head, and the severe sunburn he incurred.33 He began the return trip on June 21st after demonstrating the Autogiro for Navy officers and other interested parties, and arrived back at the Pitcairn factory at Willow Grove on June 30, 1931. The factory mechanics, interested in evaluating how the PCA-2 had performed, gave it a through inspection – it only needed an oil change! Miller would go on in 1932 to fly hundreds of hours in his PCA-2, thrilling crowds with his performance of the loop and other aerobatic maneuvers.34 Of the PCA-2, Miller would state 70 years later: "[T]he PCA-2 still had the original air in one of its tires when sold with 2000+ hrs flying time. It was a first class aircraft and the safest in history, in my considered judgment the only INHERENTLY safe aircraft."35 He received the Sikorsky Award for his part in the evolution of the helicopter, a Certificate of Honor from the National Aeronautic association for his contributions to aviation, and had been mde an honorary fellow in the Society of Test Experimental Pilots for having "promoted the moral obligation of the test pilot to the safety of the aerospace world." His fellow Society members include General Jimmy Doolittle, Howard Hughes, Charles Lindbergh and Igor Sikorsky. A modest man, Miller replied when questioned in 1996 as to how he felt he would be remembered: "I didn’t go after records or the publicity. I just went out and did the work." But Amelia Earhart and her husband George Palmer Putnam were very interested in the publicity, and they and the Pitcairn executives that had tried to arrange for her cross-country flight to be the first, were in for a surprise!
Earhart with the Beech-Nut Pitcairn PCA-2 Autogiro at Glendale, CA
After much preparation and orchestrated publicity, Earhart left Newark on May 29, 1931 and headed west. Accompanied by mechanic Eddie Vaught36 and making as many as 10 landings/day, she proceeded along the northern mail route to Oakland, California. At each stop she lifted children to see the cockpit, shook hands with spectators, gave interviews, and often gave out samples of the Beech-Nut chewing gum. Arriving on June 6, 1931, in Oakland, California, she discovered much to her amazement and her husband’s mercurial anger,37 that John M. Miller had arrived in San Diego on May 28th, having left Willow Grove on May 14th with no fanfare. Thus deprived of the transcontinental record, Earhart and her husband decided that she would claim a record by returning to the East Coast. This was not to be as she had the first of her three Autogiro crashes in Abilene, Kansas on June 12, 1931. Returning by the southern route, she crashed while taking off, having failed to rise quickly enough. The PCA-2 dropped thirty feet, hit two cars and damaged its rotor and propeller. Earhart stated that "The air just went out from in under me" and added "Spectators say a whirlwind hit me. I made for the only open space available." And ever conscious of Pitcairn Aviation, she added "With any other type of plane the accident would have been more serious." She and the accompanying mechanic were unhurt, but her attempt at the cross-country return was ended – she returned to the East Coast by train.38
The Aeronautic Branch of the Department of Commerce, renamed in 1934, the Bureau of Air Commerce, did not accept her version of the incident and issued her a formal reprimand for "carelessness and poor judgment" based on report made by the local inspector R. W. Delaney. Actually, the govrnment had intended to ground Earhart for 90 days had her friend and NAA president Senator Hiram Bingham not pleaded her cause to the Aeronautic Branch of the Department of Commerce. He secured a lesser penalty, a formal reprimand from Clarence Young, then Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Aviation.
Amelia Earhart’s second Autogiro crash is known from a single source, a letter39 to author Susan Butler from Helen Collins MacElwee, sister of Amelia’s New York, Philadelphia and Washington Airway Corporation (NYPWA) colleague Paul Collins. Paul Collins and his sister Helen witnessed the second accident. After a "rather erratic" Autogiro flight she made after taking off from the airfield in Camden, New Jersey, she "finally landed on a fence. Amelia stepped out frustrated and furious, and announced, "I’ll never get in one of those machines again. I couldn’t handle it at all." Earhart’s third accident in an Autogiro occurred during her subsequent Beech-Nut tour while at the Michigan State Fair in Detroit, Michigan on September 12, 1931. Attempting a slow landing in front of the grandstand, she failed to level off in time and dropped twenty feet to the ground. She wrote her mother: "My giro spill was a freak accident. The landing gear gave way from a defect and I ground-looped only. The rotors were smashed as usual with giros, but there wasn’t even a jar."40 Although she did additional flying for Beech-Nut in a mutually profitable arrangement, her significant contact with the Autogiro finished with the end of 1931. She was already planning the solo trans-Atlantic flight of May 20-21, 1932, which would win her the National Geographic Society Special Medal, the first awarded to a woman pilot.
With the perspective of over 70 years, it is readily apparent that Earhart’s involvement with the Autogiro was relatively insignificant. The general consensus was that she was an "impatient" pilot, and that her accidents were the product of lack of training and lack of attention to detail. The crash in Kansas appears to have resulted from forcing takeoff without the rotors having achieved high enough rotation, while Detroit was the result of not having spent enough time practicing landings. To be sure, the Autogiro, despite Pitcairn’s public claims of ease of operation touted in virtually every advertisement and public pronouncement, was a difficult aircraft. Amelia’s friend, pilot Blanche Noyes,41 who was hired to fly a PCA-2 for an oil company, ridiculed Pitcairn’s claim that "a ten-year-old boy" could fly an Autogiro. She related, in her Oral History (which is part of a collection at Columbia University)42 that the factory training aircraft was called the Black Maria43 because so many pilots had accidents.44 So the report of Earhart’s declaration after her second accident rings true, perhaps sported by an observation made in an article in Fortune in 1932 assessing a year’s Autogiro progress: "It is reported that Amelia Earhart, since her two crashes, opines that it is as hard to make a perfect landing with an autogiro as it is to make a perfect drive on the golf course."45 And it is known that she accepted the Beech-Nut tour which took her to Detroit and her third accident because she needed the money.
In many ways her lasting and most serious contribution to the Autogiro may have been the article she published in Cosmopolitan Magazine in August 1931.46 The article predicted that the day was fast approaching when "country houses would have wind cones flying from their roofs to guide guests to the front lawn landing area" (Harold Pitcairn’s home, Cairncrest, already did!), and Autogiro hunting and fishing trips for the weekend would be common, as well as quick sorties to golf and aviation country clubs and a new convenient way to commute to work. This article almost exactly mirrored the images conveyed in Pitcairn advertising,47 and Carl R. Gunther, Pitcairn Aircraft Association Archivist and historian, has suggested that the Fortune article was probably written, not by Earhart, but by either Pitcairn Aircraft or its advertising agency. That agency also authored many dramatic advertisements for American magazines, such as Town and Country, with spectacular Autogiro photographs and copy, and promotional brochures designed to inform and intrigue the affluent.48 The result was a public relations bonanza!
1. It is interesting to note that Cierva’s article on page 35 was immediately followed on the next page by an article by Don Rose, as Cierva and Don Rose would collaborate on the 1931 book. Wings of Tomorrow: The Story of the Autogiro published in New York by Brewer, Warren & Putnam.2. Alternatively attributed as Pitcairn chief pilot Jim Ray.
3. David Sinton Ingalls, a member of the National Aviation Hall of Fame, also was cosponsor of the Ohio Aviation Code, helped create the Naval Air Transport Service while serving as Undersecretary of the Navy. He also guided the Naval Aviation test and development program. See Yenne, Bill Legends of Flight. (forward by Frank Borman). Lincolnwood, Illinois: Publications International, 1999 p. 207
4. Ingalls, David S. "Autogiros – Missing Link" Fortune. March 1931 pp. 77 – 83, 103 – 104, 106, 108, 110. Ingalls referred to "Inventor Cierva and Impresario Pitcairn" in his introduction describing "the most promising new flying machine in the thirty-year history of aviation."5. Cierva had, by early 1931, left England to return to Spain which was then being strained by a political crisis – King Alfonso has been exiled and the political administration of de Rivera was being challenged by rival factions. He was attending to the safety of his immediate family, by then including a wife and six children, and presumably the interests of his extended family that had been closely identified with the royalist government. While Cierva did not share in the Collier Trophy, he received the British Royal Aeronautical Society Silver Medal that year. Brooks, Peter W. Cierva Autogiros: The Development of Rotary-Wing Flight. p. 129
6. For a picture of Amelia Earhart with the factory PCA-2 after achieving the altitude record, see Lovell, Mary S. The Sound of Wings: The Life of Amelia Earhart. New York: St. Martins Press, 1989 photo # 307. See Tobin, James Ernie Pyle’s War: America’s Eyewitness to World War II. Lawrence Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1997 p. 19 8. Many years after his death, however, it would be asserted by literary researchers that Halliburton had not, in fact, done the daring feats described in his many books. For example, he describes a clandestine midnight swim in the pools at the Taj Mahal – which is now acknowledged as more a flight of fancy than an actual achievement. Such posthumous assertions aside, however, it cannot be denied that Halliburon was a credible and recognized adventurer of the time – with a very real publishing contract with, in 1930, the Ladies Home Journal and Bobbs-Merrill Company. 9. That telegraph is currently in the possession of Michael Manning. Thanks are due to Deane B. McKercher for making a copy available to the author. 10. See Smith, Frank Kingston. Legacy of Wings: The Story of Harold F. Pitcairn. p. 192; for an additional photograph of golfers with the Autogiro, see Pynchon, George Jr. "Something About the Autogiro" Town & Country. Vol. 86 No. 4062 August 15, 1931 pp. 46 – 47 p. 46
11. For copies of the advertising paintings, see Young, Warren R. The Helicopters, Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1982 pp. 62 – 63
12. "The Putnam family was represented in the American Revolution by two generals, and in 1848 the first George Palmer Putnam had founded the publishing firm which still bears his name. He was a founder and honorary superintendent of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and one of his sons became Librarian of Congress. The other carried on the publishing firm until he was succeeded by his son, the second George Palmer Putnam, who sold it when he married A[melia]E[arhart]." Bakus, Jean L. Letters from Amelia: An Intimate Portrait of Amelia Earhart. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1982 pp. 113 - 114
13. For background information on Glenn Curtiss, see Jablonski, Edward Man With Wings pp. 79 – 92; see also Yenne, Bill Legends of Flight. (forward by Frank Borman). Lincolnwood, Illinois: Publications International, 1999 p. 27. Curtiss was no stranger to speed – in 1907 he had established the world speed record in a motorcycle when he was officially clocked at 78.26 mph.14. Letter from John M. Miller to the author dated February 28, 2001. This letter gives many details of Miller’s early life and inspiration, and is hereafter referred to as the "February 28, 2001 Miller letter). 15. Shamburger, Page and Joe Christy Command the Horizon: A Pictorial History of Aviation. New York: ,A. S. Barnes and Co., Inc., 1968 p. 36; For a description of Curtiss’ flight and a photograph of the Golden Flyer circling the Mineola Fairgrounds, see TAKEOFF! How Long Island Inspired America to Fly. (Forward by Nelson DeMille) Melville, NY: Newsday, Inc. 2000 p. 3. This book also maintains that Curtiss won $10,000 for the Mineola flight, but that is not documented elsewhere. In 1911 Earle Ovington had flown a sack of cards and letters from Garden City to nearby Mineola – it was the first transport of the U. S. mail and preceded the first established regularly scheduled airmail service in 1918 from Long Island’s Belmont Park and Washington, DC. 16. Long-time Hofstra University President ( 1976 – 2001) James M. Shuart often remarked that his school wasn’t so bad for "some old landing strips." 17. For a description of this famous American aviatrix, see Jablonski, Edward Man With Wings pp. 102 – 103; Roseberry, C. R. The Challenging Skies: The Colorful Story of Aviation’s Most Exciting Years 1919 – 39. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company 1966 pp. 421 - 422 18. The first American woman pilot, however, was Rochester, NY native 18 year-old Blanche Stuart Scott, who had been taught to fly by Glenn Curtiss. Scott did not receive credit, however, because her solo on September 2, 1910, in Hammondsport, NY, had occurred when her plane was lifted from the runway while she was taxing by a gust of wind. Another unlicensed woman pilot, Mineola, Long Island resident Bessica Raiche received a gold-and-diamond medal inscribed "First Woman Aviator of America" from the Aeronautical Society of America. For her solo two weeks later. Curtiss also taught the second unlicensed woman pilot, Julia Clark, who tragically died in a crash while performing at a state fair. Jablonski, Edward Man With Wings. p. 101; TAKEOFF! How Long Island Inspired America to Fly. pp. 15 - 16
19. Fifty-two years later Popular Rotorcraft Flying would describe Diane Barnes, from Manchester, England, the first woman to solo in a Bensen Gyroglider, as "dainty as a Dresden doll". See "Lady Bugs, United" Popular Rotorcraft Flying. Vol. 2 No. 2 Spring 1964 p. 17
20. Quimby, a "darkly handsome girl", had been the drama editor for Leslie’s Weekly and the first woman to fly the English Channel solo. She wrote widely about the future of aviation and even predicted that there would some day be numerous airports in major cities and regularly scheduled air service. For descriptions of her death, see Roseberry, C. R. The Challenging Skies: The Colorful Story of Aviation’s Most Exciting Years 1919 – 39. p. 422; Jablonski, Edward Man With Wings pp. 101 – 102; TAKEOFF! How Long Island Inspired America to Fly. pp. 23 - 2421. In 1915 Law would set a new altitude record of 11,500 feet and the next year she would attempt a flight from Chicago to New York. 22. Not allowed to fly for the military in WWI for which she had volunteered, she was permitted to make fund-raising and recruiting flights. She never failed to thrill the crowed with her looping a plane at night with flares attached to her plane. For a picture of her night looping, see Jablonski, Edward Man With Wings p. 103 23. "February 28, 2001 Miller letter" 24. Miller, John M. ; "The First Transcontinental Flights with a Rotary-Wing Aircraft 1931." Popular Rotorcraft Flying August 1992 pp. 11 – 19 pp. 11 - 12 25. "February 28, 2001 Miller letter".
26. Thus the suggestion by Pitcairn’s biographer and admirer Frank Kingston Smith that "[w]hen he [Johnny Miller] learned that Earhart had been advanced ahead of him on the production and delivery line, he took off for the West Coast without fanfare and beat her by two weeks" is, in its implication, incorrect. Miller had long planned his trip, and had, in fact, contracted for air show performances at the Omaha Air Races on May 17, 1931. His sudden departure for the west wasn’t occasioned by the announcement of Earhart’s flight but the need to fulfill a previous commitment. He then, of course, continued on to the West Coast.27. See also Miller, John M. "The First Transcontinental Rotary-Wing Flight – Part 3 Vertika: The Newsletter of the American Helicopter Museum and Education Center Vol. 7 Issue 2 October 2000. Vol. 8 No. 1 February 2001; "The First Transcontinental Rotary-Wing Flight." Vertika: The Newsletter of the American Helicopter Museum and Education Center Vol. 7 Issue 2 October 2000.Vol. 7 No. 2 October 2000. 28. Miller, John "The First Transcontinental Flights with a Rotary-Wing Aircraft 1931" Popular Rotorcraft Flying August 1992 p. 12; "February 28, 2001 Miller letter" 29. "February 28, 2001 Miller letter"; Pitcaairn mechanic and pilot George Townson, also claimed to have "had words" with Earhart the day of her altitude record flights and that "she was an impatient pilot." Conversation with George Townson; see also Townson, George. Autogiro: The Story of ‘the Windmill Plane’. Fallbrook, California: Aero Publishers (1st ed.); Trenton, New Jersey: Townson, 1985 (2nd printing) 30. For photographs of the "Black Maria", see Brooks, Peter W. Cierva Autogiros: The Development of Rotary-Wing Flight. p. 123; Townson, George and Howard Levy "The History of the Autogiro: Part One" Air Classics Quarterly Review p. 12; Townson, George. Autogiro: The Story of ‘the Windmill Plane’ p. 21 - 22 31. Ingalls, David S. "Autogiros – Missing Link" Fortune. March 1931 pp. 77 – 83, 103 – 104, 106, 108, 110
32. Frank Kingston Smith incorrectly asserts that Miller flew the "Silverbrook Coal PCA-2 a week before [Earhart]." Smith, Frank Kingston. Legacy of Wings: The Story of Harold F. Pitcairn p. 188. It is difficult to know how this attribution could be made as the pictures of Fred W. "Slim" Soule flying the Silverbrook Coal Company PCA-2 (NC10786) and Johnny Miller flying the "Missing Link" (NC 10781) are on facing pages. (182 – 183).33. For a picture of Miller with a severe sunburn at the completion of the first transcontinental flight, see Miller, John M. "The First Transcontinental Flights with a Rotary-Wing Aircraft 1931." Popular Rotorcraft Flying p. 16 34. Miller was not the first to do a loop in an Autogiro, but was the most widely-known pilot to perform this maneuver. He first proposed a loop in public at the 1931 National Air Races, but was prevented by the Pitcairn company that assured the Air Races organizer Cliff Henderson, that it would prove fatal. Miller learned from Pitcairn pilots that they had been forbidden from looping, but the 1932 National Air Races at Cleveland were a different story. Miller, a highly skilled aerobatic pilot, knew he could do the loop – and he did! He looped for the first time before an enthusiastic crowd on August 27th and continued in his daily performances for the next seven days, but on September 3rd after his flight, he landed but as he reached for the rotor brake, his aircraft was struck by a pre-WWI Curtiss pusher flown by Al Wilson. Wilson had elected to end his performance by ‘buzzing’ the PCA-2, unaware that since the Autogiro had made a steep descent, there was a residue column of air from its rotor. Wilson’s plane hit the downdraft of air, dived into the ground, resulting in his death and doing much damage to the "Missing Link". It took 27 days before it could fly again, costing Miller appearance fees, but he knew he had gotten off lucky – his friend was dead. 35. "February 28, 2001 Miller letter"; see also Miller, John "The First Transcontinental Flights with a Rotary-Wing Aircraft 1931." Popular Rotorcraft Flying p. 19 36. Alternative, reported as Eddie Gorski. Butler, Susan East to the Dawn: The Life of Amelia Earhart New York: Da Capo Press 1999 p. 258 37. "Amelia was disappointed and George was furious. His overreactions were well known but could be alarming to anyone witnessing them for the first time." Lovell, Mary S. The Sound of Wings: The Life of Amelia Earhart New York: St. Martins Press 1989 p. 170 38. Lovell is incorrect in stating that "A replacement autogiro was hurriedly shipped to her [after the Abilene, TX crash] and Amelia continued her trip to Newark without further incident." Lovell, Mary S. The Sound of Wings: The Life of Amelia Earhart p. 171. See Smith, Frank Kingston. Legacy of Wings: The Story of Harold F. Pitcairn p. 189 "Unfortunately, she [Amelia Earhart] had to complete her transcontinental trip by rail . . . " 39. Butler, Susan East to the Dawn: The Life of Amelia Earhart. p. 260 40. Bakus, Jean L. Letters from Amelia: An Intimate Portrait of Amelia Earhart p. 117 41. In mid-1932, fortune reported that "Blanche Noyes, before a firemen’s convention at Port Clinton, Ohio, came straight down unto as mall clearing in Standard Oil Co. of Ohio’s large Pitcairn [PCA-2], cracked up her undercarriage. She cracked up again alter, said the ship went into a nose dive at 100 feet, plunged straight into the ground. She may have been mistaken, for the only material damage to the nose of her ship was a bent propeller blade. Now she believes autogiros unsafe, her husband flies the machine." see
"Autogiros of 1931 - 1932" Fortune 1932 pp. 48 – 52: 48 42. Oral History Collection, Columbia University, Vol 1, pt. 3, p. 17. 43. PCA-1B tail number X96N See Miller, John M. "The First Transcontinental Flights with a Rotary-Wing Aircraft 1931." Popular Rotorcraft Flying August 1992 pp. 11 – 19 44. Johnny Millers maintained, in corrections to the manuscript, that this was "not so" and that "while in experimental development it had accidents, but then was an excellent Autogiro. I liked it very much." 45. "Autogiros of 1931 - 1932" Fortune 1932 pp. 48 – 52: 50 46. Earhart, Amelia "Your Next Garage May House An Autogiro." Hearst’s International combined with Cosmopolitan. Vol. XCI No.2 August 1931 pp. 58 – 59, 160 – 161 47. See Young, Warren R. The Helicopters, Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1982 pp. 62 – 63 48. For examples of the ACA advertisements, see Townson, George. Autogiro: The Story of ‘the Windmill Plane’. Fallbrook, California: Aero Publishers (1st ed.); Trenton, New Jersey: Townson, 1985 (2nd printing) p. 1551, 154 – 155.
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Revised: February 01, 2003 .