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Rotary Wing First for the Navy and Marines

September 1931, the Pitcairn XOP-1 autogiro was procured by the Navy for trial purposes. As a rotary wing aircraft, the Navy was interested in the aircraft's ability to land and takeoff within in short space. So the Navy conducted tests aboard the aircraft carrier Langley (CV-1).

lb pitcairnLieutenant A.M. Pride taking off from USS Langley in a Pitcairn XOP-1 autogiro, September 23, 1931.
Photo number, NSO20117. Courtesy: Navsource Online: Aircraft Carrier Photo Archive.
84 Years Ago

September 1931, the Pitcairn XOP-1 autogiro was procured by the Navy for trial purposes.  As a rotary wing aircraft, the Navy was interested in the aircraft's ability to land and takeoff within in short space.  So the Navy conducted tests aboard the aircraft carrier Langley (CV-1).

On September 23, 1931, Lieutenant A.M. Pride, flew the Navy's first rotary wing aircraft, both with landings and takeoffs from the Langley, while the flattop was underway.

The Marine Corps, too, evaluated the OP-1 . . . only this time in a combat zone.

From 1927-1933, the Marines--in another of its incursions into Central America going back to the 19th century--returned to Nicaragua to repress another round of unpleasantness.  Almost from the beginning, the Marines utilized aircraft in a constabulary fashion to counter Augusto Sandino's version of the People's War.  This harkens back to 1919, when the Marines employed aircraft against insurgents in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  However in Nicaragua, the Marines brought an autogiro.

An XOP-1 was field-tested in 1932 . . . and found wanting . . . "the four-bladed, stubby-winged aircraft as found suitable only for liaison purposes and medical evacuation of the lightly wounded."(1)  The Marines determined that the XOP-1 was unsafe to fly with loads greater than 200 pounds and interest in the aircraft waned.  Several years later the Marine Corps would evaluate the Kellett OP-2 and come to the same conclusion.

In 1936, a pioneer in Marine Corps aviation, Lieutenant Colonel Roy S. Geiger, summed up the autogiro:  "To date no type of autogyro has been demonstrated which will carry a reasonable fuel supply and military load and at the same time retain its peculiar characteristics of taking off and landing in a restricted area and hovering over a given spot.  Until such time as this type of aircraft can carry a satisfactory military load and retain its flying characteristics its use [by] the Marine Corps is not recommended."(2)

However, following the Second World War, Geiger would urge the Corps to adopt the helicopter.

Notes

(1)  See page 1, "Introduction," Marines and Helicopters, 1946-1962, by Lieutenant Colonel Eugene W. Rawlins, USMC and Major William J. Sambito, USMC.

(2)  See page 1, Rawlins and Sambito.

Sources

Johnson, Dr. Wray R., "Airpower and Restraint in Small Wars:  Marine Corps Aviation in the Second Nicaraguan Campaign, 1927-33," Aerospace Power Journal, Fall 2001,www.airpower.au.af.mil/airchronicles/api/api01/fal01/johnson.html

Millett, Colonel Allan R. (Ret), Semper Fidelis:  The History of the United States Marine Corps, The Free Press, New York, NY, 1991.

Rawlins, Lieutenant Colonel Eugene W., USMC,  and Sambito, Major William J., USMC, Marines and Helicopters, 1946-1962, History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Washington, D.C., 1976.