US Army & Air Force Rotorcraft Pioneers

By Brad McNally


Brigadier General Hollingsworth F. Gregory


Hollingsworth Franklin Gregory was born in Rockwell, TX in 1906.  Frank Gregory as most people knew him, graduated from high school in Shelby, MS in 1923.  After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Mississippi in 1926, Gregory worked for several years as a Mississippi high school principal (Official Air Force Biography, 1956). 


In 1928 Gregory enlisted in the U.S. Army as a flying cadet and attended the Primary and Advanced Flying Schools at Brooks Field, TX.  The following year, after receiving his wings and a commission as a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, Gregory began his military flying career as a fixed wing pilot.  In 1935, the Army purchased its first direct control autogyros.  They were sent to Langley Field, VA to be tested by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics or NACA.  In 1936, while stationed as the Engineering Officer with Flight E of the 16th Observation Squadron at Fort Sill, OK, Gregory was picked to be one of the autogyro test pilots (Gregory, 1944).  The Army saw the autogyro’s future as a reconnaissance aircraft because of its slow flight capability.  Gregory’s technical background and his experience in observation squadrons made him ideally suited to be the senior officer in charge of the autogyro test program at Langley.  


Gregory and Lieutenant Erickson Nichols, the other test pilot, spent the next year evaluating the autogyros.  The evaluation program consisted not only of flying these aircraft at Langley to determine their flight characteristics, but also evaluating observation, communication and logistical issues through actual field use with Army ground forces.  In 1937, the Army bought seven more autogyros and Gregory was chosen to head up a new school to train the pilots needed for a more extensive autogyro test and evaluation program (Gregory, 1944).  The school was to be located at Patterson Field in Dayton, OH and would become the Army’s first rotary wing flight school.  Gregory was quickly becoming one of the Army Air Corps’ experts on rotary wing flight.  Overall, Gregory had a favorable impression of the autogyro.  However, he could see that in the near future fixed-wing aircraft would have the capability to fly almost as slow as the autogyro could and what was really needed was an aircraft with true vertical and zero airspeed flight capability.


In June of 1938 Congress passed the Dorsey Bill, named after Pennsylvania Congressman Frank Dorsey.  This bill was the result of lobbying by the autogyro industry and it authorized two million dollars to be spent on the development of rotary wing and other aircraft.  At about this same time, Captain Frank Gregory was transferred just a few miles from Patterson Field to Wright Field, home of the Air Corps’ Materiel Division.  Gregory’s new assignment was as the project officer for the Air Corps’ helicopter program.  This program was initially funded with money appropriated by the Dorsey Bill.  The Army became the lead military service for helicopter development.  Gregory’s job was to investigate new helicopter designs and direct the development and acquisition of this new technology for the military.  Gregory had visited the Sikorsky plant as early as 1938 and was impressed by the work being done there.  During a return visit on July 24, 1940 Igor Sikorsky offered Gregory the controls of the VS-300.  Gregory accepted the offer and after an eight minute flight became the first military helicopter pilot (Beard, 1996).  




Gregory was able to convince the Air Corps to purchase an improved version of the VS-300.  Known as the XR-4, it would become the military’s first helicopter.  The Army officially accepted the XR-4 in May of 1942 (Gregory, 1944).  Around this time, Gregory was named the Chief of the Aircraft Project Section and his duties increased.  Not only did he continue to evaluate new helicopter designs, but he was also one of the primary test pilots for the XR-4.  These test flights included bombing trials, development of pontoon landing gear, testing of the service ceiling and showing off the new aircraft to senior military officials.  In May of 1943 a demonstration was arranged to show the helicopter’s ability to land on a ship.  German submarines were becoming a huge problem and it was envisioned that helicopters could be used to counter this threat.  The S.S. Bunker Hill was a tanker ship that had the middle portion of her deck converted to a landing area.  On the morning of May 6th the ship was stationed in Long Island Sound, offshore from the Sikorsky Factory.  Gregory skillfully piloted the XR-4 between the Bunker Hill’s superstructure forward of the landing area and the mast and stays at the rear of the ship to accomplish the first American helicopter shipboard landing.  Over the next two days his expert piloting allowed him to accomplish numerous landings using different approach angles, relative wind combinations and ship speeds (Gregory, 1944).  The Bunker Hill tests helped set the stage for another set of shipboard tests conducted two months later on a newly developed flight deck installed on the S.S. James Parker. 


Under Gregory’s leadership the Army helicopter developed quickly.  Less than two years after the XR-4 had been accepted the XR-6 was flying.  This aircraft had much improved performance, capability and reliability.  On March 2, 1944 Gregory flew an XR-6 on a nearly 400 mile nonstop flight from Washington National Airport, DC to Patterson Field, OH.  This flight unofficially broke three world records for distance, duration and speed (Gregory, 1944).  Gregory left Wright Field in 1945 and went on to hold various jobs in intelligence, operations and policy making.  During the latter part of his career he graduated from the Armed Forces Staff College, Industrial College of the Army Forces and Strategic Intelligence School (Official Air Force Biography, 1956).  Later assignments included being a member of the Air Force contingent on the Aeronautical Research and Development Board, senior military member in the Office of the Chief Scientific Advisor and as an air attaché in Paris.  After being promoted to brigadier general, Gregory’s last assignment was as the Commander of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.


In 1958, Frank Gregory retired from the Air Force as a brigadier general.  Gregory moved to Tulsa, OK, initially working as a vice president for Midwestern Industries, which eventually became the Telex Corporation.  Later jobs included president of the Tulsa based Crane Carrier Corporation and president and chairman of the board of the World Resources Corporation (Obituary, 1978).  Gregory died in 1978 and was interred in Arlington National Cemetery.  He compiled an impressive list of military and civilian awards which included the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Air Medal and French Legion of Honor.  In 1944, Gregory was given the first Thomas H. Bane award by the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences.  He received the Bane Award “for his contribution to the military and commercial development and use of the helicopter” and it was presented by Dr. Igor Sikorsky (Helicopter Expert, 1944).  Also in 1944, Gregory and Dr. Sikorsky became the first two honorary fellows of the American Helicopter Society.  Gregory wrote a book titled “Anything a Horse Can".