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Forerunner of Helicopter Arrives at Medford Airport in 1932

It came out of the sky like a huge dragonfly and skimmed to a halt on the visitor flight line at the Medford, Ore., Airport on June 6, 1932.  Spectators saw with amazement their first Pitcairn Auto-Gyro, a forerunner of the helicopter.

The plane had a 300-horsepower engine that not only thrust the stubby wings forward, but also swept air up into the 45-foot diameter rotor blades to provide more lift. The plane was named Miss Champion after its sponsor, Champion Spark Plugs.

On that June day, Capt. Lewis Yancy stepped out of Miss Champion. He was best known for his flight from the United States to Rome, Italy, a few years earlier. Three months after that, he had flown an Auto-Gyro to a record altitude of 20,500 feet.

A cameraman for Universal Studio’s newsreel division, Jay McHenry, accompanied Yancy to Medford.  They were on a mission to film Crater Lake from the air, which they did on June 7, 1932.  People all over America saw their aerial newsreel of a very snowy Crater Lake.

The completely restored Miss Champion resides in an air museum in Oshkosh, Wis.


Sources: "Pitcairn PCA-2." Wikipedia. N.p., 23 June 2015. Web. 23 July 2015. . Gemeinhardt, Fritz, USMC Ret. "New Fangled Contraption." Letter. N.d. MS. Aviation Vertical File, Southern Oregon Historical Society, Medford, Oregon.

Alice Mullaly is a graduate of Oregon State and Stanford University, and taught mathematics for 42 years in high schools in Nyack, New York; Mill Valley, California; and Hedrick Junior High School in Medford. Alice has been an Southern Oregon Historical Society volunteer for nearly 30 years, the source of many of her “As It Was” stories.