Most Widely Traveled Autogiro Retired
The Miss Champion, the second autogiro to be used for commercial purposes in the United States was officially placed in service by the Champion Spark Plug Company of Toledo, Ohio, on July 4, 1931. Its first pilot and the only man who ever handled it controls was Captain Lewis A. Yancey, famous trans-Atlantic flier who negotiated the first New York to Rome flight in 1929.
Miss Champion was the chief attraction of the Ford Aircraft Reliability Tour of 1931 and, as an official tour ship, visited the 28 cities scheduled by the tour that summer. From that time until her retirement in 1935, she saw constant service in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Cuba. The ship has been landed in almost every Department of Commerce airport in North America and in many other airports which are mere pastures. The extensive and continuous travels of this plane allowed millions of people to catch their first glimpse of an aircraft of this type and far out-distanced the travel records of any other autogiros. Miss Champion was still traveling for several years after her contemporary ’giros had been relegated to the scrap heap.
Before 1932, the only man to fly an autogiro over water was Juan de la Cierva, the Spanish investor of the autogiro who flew one of his early models over the English Channel. Captain Yancey wished to outstrip this record and subsequently on January 24, 1932, he flew Miss Champion from Miami to Havana, a distance of more than 300 miles. The Cubans gave the ship and pilot a tremendous reception and Gerardo Machado, then president of the island, received Captain Yancey in the presidential palace.
A week later, on January 31, Captain Yancey placed an extra gas tank in the front compartment, thus doubling his fuel supply, and flew Miss Champion from Havana over the Cuban wilderness, across the lonely Yucatan Channel and above the desolate Yucatan jungle to Merida, the capital of Yucatan. There he was greeted by the governor of the state who officially welcomed him to Mexico.
Captain Yancey wished to be the first man to land an airplane at one of the famous ruined Mayan cities. With the assistance of the governor, he surveyed the possibilities at Chichen-Itza, the capital of the Mayan empire. Finding that sufficient space existed in front of the Temple of the Serpents, the great pyramid of the Mayans, he made his first landing there on February 2, 1932. As a result, a sort of air-express service was set up between the ancient city and Merida for the benefit of Yucatan officials and archaeologists who wished to try this newest form of travel against the background of the ancient lost culture. Repeated trips were made between the two points since a distance of only 76 miles airline separated them. The round trip required about an hour and a half, less time than it took to go by wagon from Chichen-Itza to Dzitas, the nearest point on the narrow gauge railway.
Skirting the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, Yancey flew the autogiro to Mexico City from Merida on February 7. Again, he was greeted by a tremendous crowd, since the Mexicans took great pride in the fact that the inventor of the autogiro was Spanish. He was greeted by Ortiz Rubio, then president of Mexico, and the president took a ride in the plane as President Machado had done in Cuba.
In May 1932, Miss Champion set a new record by landing successfully on the floor of the Yosemite Canyon, just in front of Bridal Veil Falls. No other plane had ever accomplished this feat before. The subsequent takeoff was also successful and the ’giro buzzed around the canyon like a great beetle before it gained enough altitude to get over the top and out of sight.
A month later Miss Champion was the first plane to fly between the crater-like shores of Crater Lake in Oregon. This beautiful body of water, 7 miles long, lies in the crater of an extinct volcano and its shores rise for hundreds of feet into the air.
From the Pacific Coast, Miss Champion was flown eastward by degrees through Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, and Illinois. During this period the pilot broke his own record and flew the ship for several thousand miles with his left arm in a sling.
From 1932 until May 15, 1935, when Miss Champion was placed in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the ship was seldom idle. It covered the country, state by state, north in the summer and south in the winter, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, until it became a familiar sight at airports of the country.
One of the first of its type to appear in the United States, Miss Champion was the last of this particular type of autogiro to go out of service. Since it was designed and built, new developments in ’giro design have been perfected so that the planes now being built are quite different in design and performance.
Miss Champion, with its apparently uncanny ability to make “spot” landings and get off in a comparatively short distance, aroused the interest of millions in aeronautical progress. Thousands who took their first plane ride in the passenger compartment of the ’giro were so impressed by the performance of the ship that they were won over to the cause of aviation as they never would have been had her introduction to the upper reaches come through a conventional plane. Thus, in her way, Miss Champion has been a missionary - appealing to the popular imagination by her clumsy appearance, but winning public confidence through her ability to deliver the goods.
She represents a long step forward in the attempt to enjoy the benefits of air travel without incurring the risks of fast landing speeds and the necessity for specially constructed landing spaces.