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Igor Sikorsky
Born May 25, 1889(1889-05-25)
Kiev, Russian Empire (today Ukraine)
Died 26 October 1972 (aged 83)
Easton, Connecticut, USA, buried Saint John the Baptist Greek Catholic Cemetery, Stratford, Connecticut
Nationality Russian-American
Ethnicity Polish, Russian, Ukrainian
Alma mater Imperial Russian Naval Academy
Kiev Polytechnic Institute
Occupation aircraft designer
Known for first successful helicopter
Religion Russian Orthodox
Spouse(s) Olga Fyodorovna Simkovitch
Elisabeth Semion
Children Tania, Sergei, Nikolai, Igor, George
Awards Order of St. Vladimir
National Medal of Science
Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy

Igor Sikorsky (25 May [O.S. 13 May] 1889 – 26 October 1972),[1] born Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky (Russian: Игорь Иванович Сикорский, Ukrainian: Ігор Іванович Сікорський), was a Russian-American pioneer of aviation in both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. He designed and flew the world's first multi-engine fixed-wing aircraft, the Russky Vityaz in 1913, and the first airliner, Ilya Muromets, in 1914. After immigrating to the United States, Sikorsky founded the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation in 1923,[2] and developed the first of Pan American Airways' ocean-conquering flying boats in the 1930s. In 1939, he designed and flew the Vought-Sikorsky VS-300,[3] the first viable American helicopter, which pioneered the rotor configuration used by most helicopters today.[4] Sikorsky would modify the design into the Sikorsky R-4, which became the world's first mass-produced helicopter in 1942.




Early life

Igor Sikorsky was born in Kiev, Russian Empire (present day Ukraine), as the youngest of five children born to Ivan Alexeevich Sikorsky and his wife. Sikorsky's father, Ivan, was of Russian-Polish descent; the Sikorsky family came from Polish nobility (Polish: szlachta). A professor of psychology, Ivan was the son and grandson of Russian Orthodox priests and held monarchist and Russian nationalist views.[5][6][7][8][9]

Igor Sikorsky's mother, Mariya Stefanovna Sikorskaya (née Temryuk-Cherkasova), [10] was a physician who did not work professionally. While homeschooling young Igor, she gave him a great love for art, especially in the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci, and the stories of Jules Verne. In 1900, at age 11, he accompanied his father to Germany and became interested in natural sciences through conversations with his father. After returning home, Sikorsky began to experiment with model flying machines, and, by age 12, he had made a small rubber band-powered helicopter.[11]

Sikorsky began studying at the Saint Petersburg Imperial Russian Naval Academy, in 1903, at the age of 14. In 1906, he determined that his future lay in engineering, so he resigned the Academy, despite his satisfactory standing, and left Russia to study in Paris. He returned to Russia in 1907, enrolling at the Mechanical College of the Kiev Polytechnic Institute. After the academic year, Sikorsky again accompanied his father to Germany in the summer of 1908, where he learned of the accomplishments of the Wright Brothers' airplane and Count von Zeppelin's dirigible.[12] Sikorsky later said about this event: "Within twenty-four hours, I decided to change my life's work. I would study aviation."[13]

Aircraft designer

Russian aviators Sikorsky, Genner and Kaulbars aboard a "Russky Vityaz" airplane, 1915
Sikorsky S-16, the first Sikorsky fighter with a machine gun synchronized to fire through the propeller without hitting the blades

With financial backing from his sister Olga, Sikorsky returned to Paris in 1909 to study aeronautics in the world-renowned Ecole des Techniques Aéronautiques et de Construction Automobile (ETACA) engineer school and to purchase aircraft parts. At the time, Paris was the center of the aviation world. Sikorsky would meet with aviation pioneers, to ask them questions about aircraft and flying. In May 1909, he returned to Russia and began designing his first helicopter, which he began testing in July. Despite his progress in solving technical problems of control, Sikorsky realized that the aircraft would never fly. He finally disassembled the aircraft in October 1909, after he determined that he could learn nothing more from the design.[14]

I had learned enough to recognize that with the existing state of the art, engines, materials, and—most of all—the shortage of money and lack of experience...I would not be able to produce a successful helicopter at that time.[15]

Sikorsky built the two-seat S-5, his first design that was not based on other European aircraft. Flying this original aircraft, Sikorsky earned his pilot license; Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) license No. 64 issued by the Imperial Aero Club of Russia in 1911.[16] During a demonstration of the S-5, the engine quit and Sikorsky was forced to make a crash landing to avoid a wall. It was discovered that a mosquito had flown into the gasoline and had been drawn into the carburetor, starving the engine of fuel. The close call convinced Sikorsky of the need for an aircraft that could continue flying if it lost an engine.[17] His next aircraft, the S-6 held three passengers and was selected as the winner of the Moscow aircraft exhibition held by the Russian Army in February 1912.[16]

In early 1912, Igor Sikorsky became Chief Engineer of the aircraft division for the Russian Baltic Railroad Car Works (Russko-Baltiisky Vagonny Zavod or R-BVZ)[18] in Saint Petersburg.[19] His work at R-BVZ included the construction the first four-engine aircraft, the S-21 Russky Vityaz, which he called Le Grand. He also served as the test pilot for the first flight on 13 May 1913. In recognition for his accomplishment, he was awarded an honorary degree in engineering from Saint Petersburg Polytechnical Institute in 1914. Sikorsky took the experience from building the Russky Vityaz to develop the world's first four-engined bomber, the S-22 Ilya Muromets, for which he was decorated with the Order of St. Vladimir.

After World War I, Igor Sikorsky briefly became an engineer for the French forces in Russia, during the Russian Civil War. Seeing little opportunity for himself as an aircraft designer in war-torn Europe (and particularly Russia, ravaged by the October Revolution and Civil War), he emigrated to the United States, arriving in New York on 30 March 1919.[20]

Life in America

Sikorsky Aero Engineering Company stock certificate (courtesy of
Sikorsky Skycrane carrying a house

In the United States, Sikorsky first worked as a school teacher and a lecturer, while looking for an opportunity in the aviation industry. In 1932, he joined the faculty of the University of Rhode Island to form an Aeronautical Engineering program and remained with the University until 1948.[21] He also lectured at the University of Bridgeport.

In 1923, Sikorsky formed the Sikorsky Manufacturing Company in Roosevelt, New York.[22] He was helped by several former Russian military officers. Among Sikorsky's chief supporters was composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, who introduced himself by writing a check for US$5,000 (approximately $61,000 in 2007 dollars). Though his prototype was damaged in its first test flight, Sikorsky persuaded his reluctant backers to invest another $2,500. With the additional funds, he produced the S-29, one of the first twin-engine planes in America, with a capacity for 14 passengers and a speed of 115 mph.[23] The performance of the S-29, slow compared to military aircraft of 1918, proved to be a "make or break" moment for Sikorsky's funding.

In 1928, Sikorsky became a naturalized citizen of the United States. Sikorsky Manufacturing Company moved to Stratford, Connecticut in 1929. It became a part of United Aircraft and Transport (now United Technologies Corporation) in July of that year.[24] The company manufactured flying boats, such as the S-42 "Clipper", used by Pan Am for trans-Atlantic flights.[15]

Meanwhile, Sikorsky also continued his earlier work on vertical flight. On 14 February 1929, he filed an application to patent a "direct lift" amphibian aircraft which used compressed air to power a direct lift "propeller" and two smaller propellers for thrust.[25] On 27 June 1931, Sikorsky filed for a patent for another "direct lift aircraft", and was awarded patent #1,994,488 on 19 March 1935.[26] His design plans eventually culminated in the first (tethered) flight of the Vought-Sikorsky VS-300 on 14 September 1939, with the first free flight occurring eight months later on 26 May 1940. Sikorsky's success with the VS-300 led to the R-4, which became the world's first mass produced helicopter in 1942. Sikorsky's final VS-300 rotor configuration, comprising a single main rotor and a single antitorque tail rotor, has proven to be one of the most popular helicopter configurations, being used in most helicopters produced today.[27]

Marriage and children

Sikorsky was married to Olga Fyodorovna Simkovitch in Russia. They were divorced and Olga remained in Russia with their daughter as Sikorsky departed ahead of the October Revolution. In 1923, Sikorsky's sisters emigrated to the United States, bringing six-year old Tania with them.[28] Sikorsky married Elisabeth Semion in 1924, in New York.[29] Sikorsky and Elisabeth had four sons; Sergei, Nikolai, Igor Jr., and George.

Death and legacy

Sikorsky died at his home in Easton, Connecticut, on October 26, 1972, and was buried in Saint John the Baptist Greek Catholic Cemetery in Stratford. The Sikorsky Memorial Bridge, which carries the Merritt Parkway across the Housatonic River next to the Sikorsky corporate headquarters, is named for him. Sikorsky has been designated a Connecticut Aviation Pioneer by the Connecticut State Legislature. The Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation in Stratford, Connecticut, continues to the present day as one of the world's leading helicopter manufacturers, and a nearby small airport has been named Sikorsky Memorial Airport.

Sikorsky was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 1987.[33][34][35]

Philosophical and religious views

Sikorsky was a deeply religious Russian Orthodox Christian and authored two religious and philosophical books (The Message of the Lord's Prayer and The Invisible Encounter). Summarizing his beliefs, in the latter he wrote:

Our concerns sink into insignificance when compared with the eternal value of human personality - a potential child of God which is destined to triumph over lie, pain, and death. No one can take this sublime meaning of life away from us, and this is the one thing that matters.[36]

Published works

  • Sikorsky, Igor Ivan. The Message of the Lord's Prayer. New York: C. Scribner's sons, 1942. OCLC 2928920
  • Sikorsky, Igor Ivan. The Invisible Encounter. New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1947. OCLC 1446225
  • Sikorsky, Igor Ivan. The Story of the Winged-S; Late Developments and Recent Photographs of the Helicopter, an Autobiography. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1967. OCLC 1396277

See also


  1. ^ Fortier, Rénald. Igor Sikorsky: One Man, Three Careers. 1996. Accessed on 29 October 2008.
  2. ^ "About Sikorsky." Sikorsky Aircraft. Accessed 11 December 2008.
  3. ^ Spenser 1998, p. 25.
  4. ^ Woods 1979, p. 262
  5. ^ (Russian) 25 мая родился в Киеве Сикорский, отец вертолета. / Статьи Д.Десятерика / Киев на кончике пера / Новый Город / Главная. (english translation)
  6. ^ (Russian) Domil1. (english translation)
  7. ^ (Russian) Русский архипелаг - Авторы - Гений полёта. (english translation).
  8. ^ (Russian) Русская линия / Новости / Полная сводка новостей от 14.02.2007. (english translation).
  9. ^ (Russian) [1]
  10. ^ (Russian) MAX.RU - интернет портал. (english translation).
  11. ^ Woods 1979, p. 254.
  12. ^ "Scientific Interest". The Case Files: Igor Sikorsky. Franklin Institute. Accessed on 29 October 2008.
  13. ^ Christiano, Marilyn. "Igor Sikorsky: Aircraft and Helicopter Designer". VOA News, 5 July 2005.
  14. ^ Woods 1979, p. 255.
  15. ^ a b "Igor Sikorsky." Encyclopædia Britannica, 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved on 14 October 2009.
  16. ^ a b Woods 1979, p. 256.
  17. ^ Current Biography 1940, pp. 734-36.
  18. ^ Murphy, Justin D. Military Aircraft, Origins to 1918: An Illustrated History of Their Impact. Weapons and warfare series, p. 180. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2005. ISBN 1851094881.
  19. ^ Lake, Jon (2002). The Great book of Bombers - The world's most important bombers from World War I to the present day. MBI Publishing Company. p. 31. ISBN 0-7603-1347-4. 
  20. ^ Woods 1979, p. 257.
  21. ^ "History & Timeline of the University of Rhode Island". University of Rhode Island. Retrieved 6 March 2010. 
  22. ^ Spenser 1998, p. 15.
  23. ^ Current Biography 1940, p. 735.
  24. ^ Spenser 1998, pp. 15-17.
  25. ^ U.S. Patent 1,848,389. Retrieved on 10 October 2009.
  26. ^ U.S. Patent 1,994,488. Retrieved on 10 October 2009.
  27. ^ Woods 1979, p. 262.
  28. ^ "Military Mission". The Case Files: Igor Sikorsky. Franklin Institute. Accessed on 29 October 2008.
  29. ^ Hacker, Barton C., and Margaret Vining. American Military Technology: The Life Story of a Technology, p. 116. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007. ISBN 9780801887727.
  30. ^ Foster's. "Tania Sikorsky Von York". Foster's Daily Democrat, 26 September 2008. Accessed on 16 October 2008.
  31. ^ First Helicopter Civilian Rescue November 29, 1945.
  32. ^ Speaker and Biographes.
  33. ^ Ikenson 2004, p. 24.
  34. ^ "Igor I. Sikorsky." National Inventors Hall of Fame Foundation, Inc. webpage. Retrieved on 12 October 2009.
  35. ^ "Igor I. Sikorsky: Sikorsky Aircraft." JA Worldwide webpage. Retrieved on 12 October 2009.
  36. ^ Igor I. Sikorsky. AvStop Online Magazine
  • Ikenson, Ben. Patents: Ingenious Inventions, How They Work and How They Came to Be. New York., NY: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2004. ISBN 9781579123673
  • Spenser, Jay P. Whirlybirds, A History of the U.S. Helicopter Pioneers. University of Washington Press, 1998. ISBN 0295976993.
  • Woods, Carlos C. "Igor Ivan Sikorsky". Memorial Tributes, pp. 253-266. National Academy of Engineering. Washington, D.C.: The Academy, 1979. OCLC 175306676

Further reading

  • Sikorsky's autobiography, The Story of the Winged S. (originally published 1938; updated editions, various years up to 1948)
  • Frank J. Delear, Igor Sikorsky: His Three Careers in Aviation (New York, 1969) - described as "the only biography"[2]

External links


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