Actor Steve McQueen was known almost as readily for his roles as he was his love of cars, motorcycles and airplanes - including a rare model set to make Horsham its final destination.
In photos of the late actor in 1979, McQueen is seen sitting in the cockpit of his PA-8 Mailwing, which was one of only six built by aviator Harold F. Pitcairn’s company, Pitcairn Aviation in 1931 at the former Pitcairn Field. Prior to World War II, Pitcairn had owned much of the acreage known today as the shuttered .
The plane’s local roots makes its Horsham homecoming even more significant for the Delaware Valley Historical Aircraft Association, the nonprofit entity that’s been gifted a PA-8 Mailwing similar to the one owned by McQueen.
“When it comes back it’s actually coming home after 81 years,” DVHAA volunteer Mark Hurwitz told Patch. “To our knowledge the plane flies every month. Once we get it it’s not going to fly anymore. It’ll be on static display.”
Hurwitz said DVHAA intends to reorganize the inside of the on Route 611 in Horsham to make way for the new addition. DVHAA is working with the Pitcairn family to coordinate the plane’s relocation to Horsham and officials said they have not yet determined when that will be.
Rick Pitcairn, the grandson of Harold F. Pitcairn and the executor of his uncle Steve Pitcairn’s estate, said that in awarding the Mailwing to DVHAA, “I’m trying to fulfill my uncle’s wishes with as much integrity as I can.”
Chief among his uncle’s wishes was to “maximize the amount of visibility” to the late aviator’s work. Gifting the aircraft to DVHAA is a perfect vehicle to that exposure, he said, adding that the family solicited requests for proposals from other museums before deciding to give the plane to DVHAA.
Up until now, the DVHAA museum, which pays homage to the local aviator in countless displays, as well as its name, has not had a Pitcairn plane in its collection of more than two dozen aircraft.
Rick Pitcairn said the Horsham Land Reuse Authority’s as part of the Willow Grove air base redevelopment plan bolstered confidence in the group’s sustainability.
“They’ve been able to secure their future,” he said. “We would certainly strongly consider the gift of a second aircraft.”
Rick Pitcairn said one other antique aircraft is in the estate and that Pitcairn family members own a “handful” of others.
“There weren’t all that many produced and time has taken its toll,” he said.
Of the Mailwing – which was a lightweight plane that Harold Pitcairn designed for U.S. Postal Service air mail delivery – Rick Pitcairn said the aircraft has been “perfectly” restored.
After Harold Pitcairn won the U.S. Postal Service contract in 1927 to carry the overnight mail between New York and Atlanta, he and co-developer Agnew Larsen designed the Mailwing series of planes. The Mailwing was a light, sturdy plane designed to carry the 800 pounds of mail required by the air mail route at that time.
Besides being the aircraft model of choice for McQueen, Hurwitz said there are only two PA-8 Mailwings believed to be in existence today.
Soon, one of those planes will arrive at DVHAA’s museum – proof in the mind of Hurwitz at least, that the association, its museum and its memorialization of the local aviator will continue for years to come.
“Not only are we surviving, we’re actually growing. We’re going to be around,” Hurwitz said. “We’re going to be a valued part of Horsham. We’re going to be there for a long time.”