Juan de la Cierva was a Spanish pilot and engineer
whose name remains intimately linked to the success
of the autogiro.
In 1920, de la Cierva was just 25 years
old when he began working on this strange aircraft: an
airplane whose wings had been replaced by a freely
rotating rotor driven by the relative wind.
moment on, the notion of rotary wings had taken flight.
De la Cierva’s first prototype, the C-1, was lifted by a
double propeller with four semi-rigid, free-turning
The engine was not powerful enough for the
aircraft to take off under its own steam, but this prototype
demonstrated that it could remain airborne when
towed by an airplane.
From a technical point-of-view,
de la Cierva now knew that he was on to something.
Built in 1922, the third prototype (C-3) managed to
take off all by itself and, from then on, progress was
De la Cierva understood that a hub with drag
and flapping hinges for the blades was now needed,
and he added drag dampers on the hub to prevent
In January 1923, autogiro
No. 4 flew a four kilometer circuit around Madrid and,
over the following months, the demonstrations
delighted both the general public and specialists alike.
The autogiro showed its capability to land and takeoff
over very short distances, and it also proved with ease
that a rotary-wing aircraft could land in autorotation.
While continuing to perfect his aircraft, de la Cierva
patented his inventions and exhibited his autogiro all
over the world. He created “La Cierva Autogiro
Company” in Great Britain and sold licenses to several
aeronautical manufacturers, including Lioré et Olivier
in France; Focke-Wulf in Germany; and Pitcairn, Kellet
and Buhl in the United States.
The US military saw the
potential in the autogiro for an aircraft that was easy to
fly, discrete and reliable: perfect for observation duties
on the battlefield. Several years later, the French
military also jumped on the bandwagon.
On 9 December 1936, de la Cierva boarded a DC-2
belonging to the Dutch company, KLM, which was
meant to take him from London to Amsterdam.
aircraft crashed on takeoff, claiming the life of
the young and successful inventor among its passengers.
With the success of the helicopter, which quickly
became predominant after the Second World War,
the days of the autogiro were also numbered.
Paradoxically, de la Cierva did not believe the
helicopter would be a success. In his opinion, it
was too complex to get off the ground.