An Aviation Question

Does anyone know what the heck this thing is? It could hardly look any weirder–it’s no wonder it drew a crowd. The picture is probably roughly 1933-35, and it’s right in the middle of campus, about where the new physics building is about to be dedicated.

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13 Responses to An Aviation Question

  1. Jim Marks says:

    A non-expert guess is that it was a prototype for a VTOL known as a tiltrotor.

    Such prototypes did exist in the 1930’s.

  2. C Kelly says:

    I think it’s an auto-gyro. W. C. Fields flew one in “International House.”

  3. Fr. Symeon says:

    It appears to be an autogyro. I found a photo indicating that Coca Cola had one. Go here for information and photos:

  4. It’s an autogyro (sometimes spelled autogiro).

    The event might be the one referenced on this Fondren Library “Event Photographs” page as “Auto-gyro demo on campus”.

    You can see many more images and historic film footage of autogyros here on CriticalPast.
    – Andy Erickson
    Jones School ’94

  5. Gale Stokes says:

    I think that weird aircraft is an autogyro. I recall seeing one flying about in New Jersey about 1940. According to wikipedia they were in use by newspapers and the postal service during the 1930s in the US (probably east coast). The rotor is not powered, but provides lift by air coming up below it.

  6. Lisa Childs says:

    You come up with the most interesting photos, which make me want to learn more. So I did. Coca-Cola donated their autogyro to Georgia Tech in October 1934. “Coca-Cola Presents Autogyro to Aero Dept. … The huge autogiro which set the w o r l d ‘ s altitude record two years ago for aircraft of its type was presented to Georgia Tech by the Coca Cola Company Tuesday.” (I can’t copy the link successfully, but it is in the first few results of a Google search for: Coca Cola autogyro. Interestingly, the next one is an excerpt from a memoir of a man whose father flew Coca Cola’s autogyro in the ’30s and got involved with Ty Cobb.) An autogyro from Coca Cola also visited MIT in the early ’30s. (The photo looks quite similar.) So I think you could call it a Pittcairn PCA-2. And, if this photo is correct: that Coca Cola bought it in 1932, and a year later painted it red, and sold it in 1934, you can date the event to 1933.

  7. Jerry Outlaw says:

    Looks like an “autogyro” to me, but I am not an expert.

  8. Frank Smith says:

    It is definitely a Pitcairn autogiro – that’s all I can tell from the picture. The only thing I can add to the above is the spelling – giro is preferred, and Pitcairn has one t. The info about Coca-Cola’s aircraft is very interesting and news to me. Thanks.

  9. Melissa Kean says:

    Wow! This is fantastic. It’s almost like having a bunch of really smart, well connected interns.

  10. Frank Smith says:

    The book “Aviation in Texas” (as you know, it’s in the Anderson collection) has a picture of a Pitcairn autogyro (sic) in San Antonio in 1939 on page 60. It and many others could have landed on the Rice campus in the thirties – including Coca-Cola’s of course. Are there any more clues that might help?

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