When I arrived in the Washington, DC area I was
fortunate enough to meet Andy Keech who had recently set several world records
in his gyroplane. Andy kindly invited me to join him for a drive to NJ to
meet several gyroplane legends.
Dr. Bruce Charnov a
professor at Hofstra University is not a gyro pilot but he has an intense
interest in gyroplanes and has made it his mission to document everything he can
about their history. In this effort he was in the process of shooting a
television documentary about gyros. Bruce and TV commentator Roland Smith
were on hand to film Andy, Steve Pitcairn and Johnny Miller.
Captain Johnny Miller will turn 100 years old in December of 2005. As of
this writing he is still piloting his single engine Bonanza and if all goes as
planned, he will be flying it on his 100th birthday. Johnny is truly a
living legend of aviation. He has been involved in airplanes from almost
their birth. He remembers seeing Glen Curtiss landing on a nearby farm in
1909. He knew the Wright Brothers, watched Lindberg take off for Paris and
has been a participant in dozens of aviation firsts. Johnny was an early
barnstormer flying his Curtiss- JHN 4 (Jenny) throughout the country giving
rides from farm fields and visiting a different town each week. Captain
Miller is perhaps most famous for flying a gyroplane from the roof of the
Philadelphia post office every day for a year to demonstrate the viability of
airmail. He tested hundreds of planes during World War II and later had a
career as an airline Captain.
Steve Pitcairn and Miss Champion
Steve is the owner and pilot of Miss Champion a beautiful Cierva-Pitcairn
autogyro built in the 1930's. Steve's father Harold Pitcairn built the
first autogyros in America under license from Juan de la Cierva the inventor of
the gyro. The Pitcairn company also built the beautiful Pitcairn Mailwings,
early airmail planes of which Steve still has several maintained in pristine
condition in his hangars in NJ.
Andy flies a Little Wing tractor type gyroplane in the style of Miss Champion.
He recently flew his gyro named Woodstock from coast to coast both directions
setting world records in the process. He also holds the gyroplane altitude
record of over 26,000 feet.
Unfortunately the heavy downpour prevented Steve from
flying Miss Champion but the opportunity to spend time in the company of these
Gyroplane Legends made the day a huge success.
L to R: Bruce Charnov, Rob Dubin, Johnny Miller
Andy Keech, Roland Smith
Johnny Miller & Roland Smith
Steve Pitcairn in Miss Champion
Johnny Miller & Rob Dubin
Johnny Miller, Steve Pitcairn, Andy Keech
Andy Keech, Johnny Miller, Rob Dubin