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Lawrence B. Sperry

AKA Lawrence Burst Sperry

Born: 22-Dec-1892
Birthplace: Chicago, IL
Died: 13-Dec-1923
Location of death: English Channel
Cause of death: Accident - Airplane

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Inventor, Business

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Invented the autopilot

Military service: US Navy Flying Corps Reserve (to Lieutenant)

Lawrence B. Sperry was the son of Elmer Sperry, inventor of the gyroscopic compass. The younger Sperry invented a three-way gyrostabilizer, harnessing an aircraft's three flight axes -- yaw, pitch and roll -- to the stability of a gyroscope, effectively inventing the first autopilot. In the first public demonstration of his device at the International Airplane Safety Competition in France on 18 June 1914, Sperry released the controls and stood with his hands in the air while piloting a Curtiss C-2 biplane past the crowd, dramatically demonstrating that his improved gyrostabilizer would indeed keep the plane flying level. On his next pass over the crowd, Sperry stood on one wing while his mechanic stood on the other -- leaving the pilot's seat empty.

He built the first amphibious flying boat, helped develop explosive drones (aerial torpedoes) during World War I, and split with his father to found the Sperry Aircraft Company in 1918. Famous, dashingly handsome, and commonly called "Gyro Sperry" in the press, he married silent film starlet Winifred Allen. While constructing Sperry Messenger planes for the Army Air Service, he buzzed the Capitol in his private biplane to bring attention to his complaints that the government was tardy in payments to him and his company. In a 1923 visit to England, Sperry dropped political leaflets from his plane, which is generally held as the first use of air-dropped advertising. But on his next flight, tragically and ironically, Sperry lost his way in the fog and his plane plunged into the English Channel. Only 31 years of age at his death, he held 23 patents, mostly for inventions related to air safety. His company, Sperry Aircraft, is part of the corporate ancestry of Unisys.

Father: Elmer Sperry (inventor, b. 12-Oct-1860, d. 10-Jun-1930)
Mother: Zula Augusta Goodman Sperry (m. 1887, d. 1929)
Brother: Elmer Sperry, Jr. (b. 1894, d. 1968)
Brother: Edward Goodman Sperry
Sister: Helen Marguerite Sperry Lea
Wife: Winifred Allen (actress, b. 1-Jun-1896, m. 20-Feb-1918, d. 3-Jan-1943)

    National Aviation Hall of Fame
    Sperry Aircraft Company Founder & President (1918-23)
    English Ancestry


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