Harold F. Pitcairn (1897-1960) started an air mail service in the 1920s that eventually would become Eastern Airlines. In 1926, he decided to build his own aircraft for his flying service and founded the Pitcairn Aircraft Co. Pitcairn’s early airplanes were highly regarded single-engined biplanes used for air mail and personal transport.
Pitcairn then became interested in autogyros (then often spelled autogiros). These machines were predecessors of helicopters in which primary lift was provided by a large rotor that was unpowered. It turned because of airflow generated by an engine that provided forward thrust on a conventional airplane fuselage, generally with small wings used for secondary lift and for control. Most autogyros also had a conventional tail. Autogyros had some of the characteristics of helicopters; they couldn’t hover, but they had exceptional short-field performance and could do near-vertical controlled descents. Pitcairn obtained the U.S. license for the technology of Juan de la Cierva, an early autogyro innovator in Spain. To capitalize on the reputation of this name, Pitcairn created the separate Pitcairn-Cierva Autogiro Co. in 1929.