Pitcairn Plane Coming 'Home'

The family of aviator Harold F. Pitcairn are donating one of his rare aircraft to the Delaware Valley Historical Aircraft Association.

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.”


Toni Kistner June 19, 2012 at 10:45 AM
So glad to hear that they have been allotted the acreage to expand the museum....
deborah palumbo June 19, 2012 at 11:02 AM
What an awesome piece of history coming to Horsham; an extra bit of thanks because there are only 2 PA-8 Mailwings in existence today as the article states. And Horsham's "got" one! Avaiation buffs as well as lay people are going to really love and appreciate this.
kgghorsham June 19, 2012 at 02:18 PM
This is a great piece of history coming to Horsham! Any opportunity for learning more about our Horsham history is great for the adults and kids!
Mike Shortall Sr June 19, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Nice acquisition ... I would love to see the DVHAA become the center attraction for some form of artisan retail development at the abandoned JRB site. Think a much smaller version of the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum surrounded by a Peddler's Village-type development of small shops, cafes, restaurants, bars, etc. with walking trails among the aircraft exhibits (maybe glass-enclosed like the current museum, so strollers can see the planes even at night).
KWRUB June 19, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Yes Mike.. I can see the Wings of Freedom becoming a "have to go" for anyone in the years to come. Horsham has no idea what they have right here.. I would hope they let the museum expand and grow. 13 acres is nice but it would be nicer if they had the hanger and more land. What a great piece of history coming back to the area. It's hard to imagine how all this started back in the early years but I hope to see more come back as they try to build the collection and gather more history of our town and community. Lets all support thier efforts...
Mott1 June 19, 2012 at 07:13 PM
Although it is their money and they can spend it as they see fit, it would be nice if the eateries and retail locations donated a portion of their profits to the DVHHA.
Mott1 June 19, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Make that DVHAA ;)
KWRUB June 19, 2012 at 09:06 PM
Just thinking.. I'm a hugh aviation fan, adding history and it's even better. Can you imagine the kudos Horsham would get if they let the Mailwing fly into its home. I can see all the news agencies line up along 611 to capture this historic event. Horsham is really missing the boat here. The WOF museum is going to bring folks into the area which brings in revenue to a lot of businesses.. Just me thinking how cool it would be to see that happen..
Mott1 June 20, 2012 at 12:05 PM
Not a bad idea ;)
Theresa Katalinas (Editor) June 20, 2012 at 07:29 PM
Hi KWRUB, I asked Horsham Land Reuse Authority Executive Director Mike McGee about the possibility of the plane flying in and this is what he said: "As far as we're concerned, the runway's closed and it's staying closed."
KWRUB June 20, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Thanks Teresa... I kind of knew what thier stand was. I just thought it would be a great event for the positive, for Horsham... Mr. McGee sees it different.
Ralph W. Galow June 21, 2012 at 12:52 AM
Lets keep the idea of a news event while flying the Mailwing to the Museum. We have all the media nearby and I know they would carry the shot and also send it across the country via the netwworks.
D R Wagner June 21, 2012 at 01:32 AM
Are you kidding me. This is history. LET THE PLANE LAND.
Mike Shortall Sr June 21, 2012 at 03:59 AM
There's no way the Navy (who still possesses the base) is going to reopen it for a single publicity flight. Between needing ATC, fire protection, or even just cutting the grass it ain't happenin'. The Navy has all but abandoned the property, the buidings, the infrastructure, everything ... That's also the reason the museum won't be able to reuse the hangers there - without significant and expensive rehab effort.
David Pitcairn June 26, 2012 at 04:35 AM
This plane was made to fly and is very strong for that intended purpose however, unlike more modern planes, it would likely be damaged if not flown to the museum. Not only would ground shipment be more time, effort and cost to the museum, but the award winning workmanship would be at risk and therefor incure additional cost for repairs, not to mention possibly harming original parts of a historic artifact. Far from being an impossibility, the only thing standing in the way of a single landing is Mike McGee and the HLRA. Sure there are other hoops to jump through but those are a matter of routine paperwork to get approvals. Not sure where Mike Shortall gets his ideas but other than the Navy owning the property and maybe no longer maintaining it, his information is incorrect. There is no need to do anything physically to the property to allow one landing (it is very easy to make it happen if Mike McGee would allow it) and the repurposing of the hanger and fixing it up is far cheaper than building a new building from scratch. If that was not true than most of the unheated garages in Horsham would need replacement because they would be far beyond repair. My drywalled, unheated garage has done just fine for 15 years and still looks new inside. As an independant observer not affiliated with the museum, I don't understand why Mike McGee has this irrational stance against allowing a waiver for a single landing to deliver a historic artifact the safest way.
KWRUB June 26, 2012 at 12:29 PM
Thanks David .. I agree with you. I hope it flys in for the community.
Mike Shortall Sr June 26, 2012 at 02:47 PM
First things first ... It's my understanding that the Navy controls the JRB property until such time as it hands it off - assuming eventually it does - to HLRA. Horsham control diddly at this point when it comes to what can and what cannot land at the base. As the article states, it will be 12-18 months before the Navy even completes its evaluation; and the base will not be turned over before that. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if it takes a good bit longer than 18 months. That being said, Mr. Pitcairn, how does Mike McGee control this decision?? Maybe you can be more specific about the "routine paperwork" needed to get THE NAVY to allow a single landing, and how the HLRA controls that process. My information on the hangars comes from listening to the presentations on the condition of ALL the buildings at the base. The Navy stopped doing any kind of maintainance some time ago; closed off some buildings a year - or more - before leaving; and basically stripped the buildings of anything useful. I frankly don't care whether the DVHAA gets to use the hangars there or not, so long as THEY come up with the money to do the rehab that will undoubtedly be needed.
David Pitcairn June 26, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Mike Shortall, The Navy owns the property and therefor ultimately controls it but maybe you were not in the meetings where the HLRA decided to allow the Museum to stay on a temporary lease. The Navy apparently required the Museum to lease the land from the HLRA which in turn leased the land from the Navy. In other words, the Navy's position is that anything that happens has to go through the HLRA. In that situation, the HLRA requirements where more stringent than the Navy's for no obvious good reason. If the Navy was against it one landing, Mike could let them be the bad guy that says no but that is not the case since Mike McGee is the one saying no. The routine paperwork consists of applying for a temporary waiver from the FAA.
David Pitcairn June 26, 2012 at 03:19 PM
Regarding the buildings, yes, that was said onthe meetings by mike McGee but that does not make it true or correct, rather very self serving. Sure it may be true of some buildings but it is not true of the hanger and the shell is the expensive part so refinishing the inside is relatively cheap. We agree that the museum should pay refurbishment costs but that would be much less money with the hanger, even with the need to beautify the exterior factored in.
Mike Shortall Sr June 26, 2012 at 03:27 PM
I would think that's an interpretation of the BRAC law and not a conscious decision by the Navy to run everything through the HLRA. The museum was a special case since it was already in existence at the time of the closure. I doubt the Navy would buy into reopening the airbase for a single landing, but good luck with that! I'm sure the Township and HLRA has more important things to do, and probably doesn't want to even consider reopening the whole airport issue by allowing it. Can't say I blame 'em ...
David Pitcairn June 26, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Mike, Either way, they are running everything through the HLRA. Not sure what you mean by reopening the airbase but I believe all they need to do is provide a letter or similar papers giving permission. If insurance is the concern, it is common for people and entities to get one flight only insurance coverage that would protect the Navy and HLRA. There are no ATC requirements, facility changes, or any other onsite personnel requirements by the Navy or HLRA. You are sure the Township and HLRA have more important things to do than grant a reasonable request such as this? Sad if true considering most if not all seem to agree that the Museum is an asset to Horsham.
J.K. Beaver June 29, 2012 at 01:22 PM
I would like to see more response about a one time landing of the "Mailwing's" final flight. Think about the positive press it would generate for Horsham as well as the museum. Rather than an outright turn down see if support can be generated by the groups involved. This plane is a tremendous piece of history for the area. Hope more readers will make comments and support a move to fly it in to the Base. Whirlybird
Paul K. Wade July 13, 2012 at 01:40 PM
To All, Do a fly over, declare an emergency and then land
Robert Applegarth July 17, 2012 at 01:30 AM
Mr. McGee does not seem to be a friend of aviation with his comment. I understand the runway has been closed, but what a great reason to make an exception for this historic event. Mr. McGee needs to get off his power-tower and let the plane fly into the site. Yes, what a sight for all to witness... "History Flying Home". Please feel free to use my quote in order to get this plane to land at its birth place. McGee, you should be ashamed of yourself.
Robert Applegarth July 17, 2012 at 01:41 AM
Paul Wade, My thought exactly! I don't think Shortall has anything to add except confrontation concerning this entire project. Shortall needs to stay out of it if all he can do is expound negative and sarcastic comments.
Mike Shortall Sr July 17, 2012 at 02:43 AM
I think Shortall will continue to give his opinion on anything that strikes his interest. Just sayin' ...


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