Antoine Gazda

Antoine Gazda

Antoine Gazda was an Austrian count, a race car driver, and a World War I fighter ace (on the losing side), but he spent World War II in Providence, living in suite 1009 of the Biltmore Hotel. The work he performed here in Rhode Island was considered so crucial to the Allied war effort that he was guarded 24 hours per day by the military, and the door to the suite next door was bricked up and plastered over.

Prior to the war, Gazda sold 22mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft cannon to the Germans, the Japanese, the Italians, the English, and the Americans. When Hitler conquered France the Germany Army cut off delivery of the Oerlikon guns to Britain.  Desperate for the gun but unable to produce it themselves, the British sent Gazda to the United States to set up shop. Gazda arrived in Providence in 1940 carrying one of the world’s most guarded secrets — the blueprints for the gun. By the end of World War II, nearly every vessel in the Allied fleet — up to and including the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth – carried Gazda’s antiaircraft guns.

Gazda’s first love was aviation, however. He experimented with fuel tank gliders to be towed behind bombers to extend their range, and he was fascinated by the helicopter concept. He hired three designers from Sikorsky to work on a project he called the Gazda “Helicospeeder”. This single motor and torque aircraft, incorporating several radical and unique features now commonplace in helicopter design, was developed and built in Rhode Island between 1943 and 1945.

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