lewis yancey


Capt Lewis Yancey, "Miss Champion" 
and their trip to the Central American Mayan Temple

Watch this video as Capt Yancey "windmills" to Havana

The Pitcairn PCA-2 autogyro was developed in 1931 and proved to be a reliable, unique aircraft.  The rotor at its top was unpowered and it flew more like a fixed wing aircraft than a helicopter, based on the power from its radial engine on the nose.  Once at speed, the rotor spun based on aerodynamic forces alone thus generating lift.  It was an amazing sight and attracted crowds wherever it flew.  By April of 1931, the autogyro had flown across the United States at the hands of John M. Miller, had landed on the White House lawn (by test pilot Jim Ray), and had soared to a new altitude record of 18,415 feet (this being Amelia Earhart’s record).

Seizing upon the press interest in the design, the Champion Spark Plug company purchased one and painted the sides with their logo and named it “Miss Champion”.  It was the perfect flying billboard.  After hiring Captain Lewis “Lew” Yancey, a former Naval Lieutenant and USCG officer who was a maritime captain, they directed that he fly the nation on an advertising tour.  By the end of 1931, Captain Yancey had flown the autogyro 6,500 miles, transiting 21 states and touching down in 38 cities around the nation.  Yet the Champion Spark Plugs company still wanted more attention — and thus they asked him to beat Amelia Earhart’s altitude record as well.


Captain Lewis A. “Lew” Yancey an his PCA-2 “Miss Champion” (NC 11609) exploring the Mayan ruins of the Temple of the Soldiers (Chicen-Itza, Yucatán) in February 1932. Photo Credit: Stephen Pitcairn

During January 1932, having flown south to avoid the northern winters, Captain Yancey took “Miss Champion” from Miami to Havana, Cuba, where it arrived amidst fanfare and the usual press interest.  From there, he flew onward to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula where he used the unique slow flight characteristics of the autogyro to partcipate in an archaeological exploration of the Mayan pyramids and ruins.  It proved very effective in this role, spanning many miles of jungle and finding sites that would have been missed by ground search teams.  It was a dream opportunity for the Champion Spark Plug Company, which garnered wide attention from its sponsorship of the archaeological research and came away with some absolutely stunning publicity photos.


Advertising photo of Yancey over the Temple of the Soldiers (Chicen-Itza, Yucatán). Photo Credit: Champion Spark Plug Company

Returning to the USA over the summer, Captain Yancey then set about lightening the aircraft and preparing for his altitude attempt.  At altitudes above 12,500 feet, the air begins to grow thin and pilots can experience hypoxia.  The higher one flies, the colder it becomes and the less oxygen is available.  Thus, a flight above 18,000 feet was not without dangers, though Yancey was experienced and quite well prepared.  Still, an autogyro is a different aircraft than a fixed wing airplane — while it should perform well, one could never quite tell.

Some Videos of  Captain Yancey and his flights

Yancey & Williams in Rome

Atlantic Flown again

Capt. Lewis Alonzo Yancey
World Famous Navigator

Date 5/7/1931 Place San Juan, Porto Rico
Governor Roosevelt greets Porto Rico fliers. A photo made in the billiard room of the governor's mansion here, showing Governor Theodore Roosevelt of Porto Rico, with the American aviators who flew here from the United States recently. The picture was brought back from the island by the flyers themselves. Left to right are Clyde E. Pangborn, Governor Roosevelt, Captain Lewis A. Yancey and Hugh Herndon Jr. Herndon and Pangborn handled the Bellance monoplane which they hope to pilot around the world shortly, while Yancey went along as observer.

Date : 7/8/1929 Place : Old Orchard, Maine

Trans-atlantic flier prepares for Rome hop. Captain Lewis A. Yancey placing food in his plane "Pathfinder" as Thea Rasche, German aviatrix watches. Yancey and his co-pilot Roger Q. Williams hopped for Rome this morning.


Yancey & Williams after their flight to Rome - 1929

New York Times - March 4, 1940:
Lewis Alonzo Yancey

Capt. Yancey Dies, Air Navigator, 44
Charter of Early Ocean Flights
Accompanied R. Q. Williams to Rome in 1929
Made First Bermuda Hop
Master Mariner was Officer in
Convoy Division of Navy
During World War

Yonkers, NY, March 3 [1940] Captain Lewis Alonzo Yancey, one of aviation’s noted navigators died suddenly last night at his home here 1 Lawrence Street. He had been in ill health for a few months, but his death, which was caused by a cerebral hemorrhage, was unexpected. He was 44 years old.

Captain Yancey, who flew to Rome in 1929 made the first non-stop flight from New York to Bermuda the next year.

He leaves a widow, Mrs. Gertrude Civello Yancey, and a sister, Mrs. Ruby Pierson of Chicago. Funeral services will be held at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA at 3 PM on Tuesday.

Entered Navy when 16. Captain Yancey was born in Chicago Sept 16 1895, the son of Charles and Margaret Yancey. His father was a sergeant on the police force there until his death several years ago. Lon, as he was known, was educated in the Chicago public high schools and later took extension courses in law and English.

In 1911 Captain Yancey enlisted in the United States Navy, where he remained until his retirement in 1921. During the World War he was made a lieutenant and was attached to the convoy service. He also was one of the best rifle shots in the service.

Upon retiring from the Navy he became a ship's officer for the Isthmian Line and continued his studies, finally becoming a master mariner, from which he derived his title Captain. Captain Yancey joined the United States Coast Guard in April 1925, remaining with that service until September of the following year.

It was nearly in 1926, while still at sea, that he became interested in aviation. His interest then, as it was throughout most of his career was in the science of navigation.

His sea experience aided him in mastering the problems he encountered in the air. Because of his complete knowledge of the subject of air navigation he was in great demand among the pilots of the late Nineteen Twenties and early Nineteen Thirties, when Old Orchard Beach in Maine was the starting point of so many attempts to fly the Atlantic.

Co-pilot to Roger Williams. Captain Yancey made his first trans-continental flight as a co-pilot in 1927. Two years later he made aviation history when on the morning of July 8 after several setbacks which involved the wrecking of their first plane, he and Roger Q. Williams took off in a second plane "Pathfinder" from the sands of Old Orchard Beach.

In their Bellanca monoplane they soon ran into fog off Newfoundland and were forced to fly "blind" for the greater part of the first day. However, Captain Yancey, as navigator had made calculations so accurately that when he was finally able to see far enough ahead to make a bearing he found the plane exactly on its course, heading a little south of east. Thirty one hours and 30 minutes after leaving Old Orchard the plane made an emergency landing at Santander, Spain. It then flew on to its original destination Rome where the two fliers were accorded a greeting almost as fervent as that given Lyndburgh in Paris.

The next year Captain Yancey added to his laurels as a great pilot-navigator where he William Alexander, and Zeh Bolick made another flight over the Atlantic, this time to Bermuda. Because of trouble they were forced down directly on their course, charted out by Captain Yancey, when sixty miles from their goal. They set a precedent in aviation, however, by being in the only airplane at that time ever to have spent a night at sea and then taking off again on its own power. They flew into Hamilton Harbor early the following morning. The plane was equipped with pontoons.

Made Trip to New Guinea. His next exciting exploit came in the Spring and Summer of 1930 when he flew down the east coast and back up the west coast of South America. He made the trip in easy stages. Later he became interested in the autogyro and was reputedly the only pilot ever to loop an autogyro or windmill plane. In 1938 he returned to straight aviation and accompanied Richard Archbold, air explorer, on an extended trip to New Guinea for the American Museum of Natural History.

Captain Yancey had received decorations from Pope Pius XI, King Victor Emanuel, Benito Musolini, and King Albert of Belgium. He received a US Navy medal for his work in meteorology during the World War.

He was the author of several studies relating to aviation and navigation, including "Aerial Navigation and Meteorology", "Navigation and Seamanship for Flying Boat Pilots", "Simplified Navigation" and "Dead Reckoning".

He held membership in the Aviation Post, New York Chapter of the American Legion, The Quiet Birdman, The Explorers Club and the Ligue International des Aviateurs.

lewis yancey