Name: Igor Sikorsky
Date of Birth: May 25, 1889
Place of Birth: Kiev, Russia
Date of Death: October 26, 1972
Igor Sikorsky developed
an interest in aviation at an early age. He graduated from the
Petrograd Naval College, and then studied engineering in Paris. He
returned to Kiev, entering the Mechanical Engineering College of the
Polytechnical Institute in 1907. But in 1909, he went back to Paris,
to learn what he could about the science of aeronautics.
While in Paris, he met Blériot, Ferber, and others who were to
become the great names in aviation. Despite advice to the contrary
from them Sikorsky announced plans to build a helicopter. He bought a
25 h.p. Anzani engine and went home to Kiev to begin building a
rotary-wing aircraft. His first two helicopter designs failed due to a
lack of power and understanding of the rotary-wing art.
Sikorsky then began to work on fixed-wing aircraft. His first
successful aircraft was the S-2, which was the second fixed-wing plane
of his design and construction. His fifth airplane, the S-5, won him
national recognition as well as F.A.I. license Number 64. His S-6-A
received the highest award at the 1912 Moscow Aviation Exhibition. In
the fall of that year the aircraft won first prize in the military
competition at Petrograd.
Sikorsky's success in 1912 led to a position as head of the
aviation subsidiary of the Russian Baltic Railroad Car Works. Because
of a mosquito-clogged carburettor and subsequent engine failure, he
conceived the idea of a multi-engine airplane. This led to the
construction of the four-engined "The Grand." The revolutionary
aircraft featured such things as an enclosed cabin. a lavatory,
upholstered chairs and an exterior catwalk atop the fuselage where
passengers walk exposed to the air. His success led him to design an
even bigger aircraft, called the Ilia Mourometz, after a legendary
10th Century Russian hero. More than 70 military versions of the Ilia
Mourometz were built for use as bombers during World War 1.
The Revolution put an end to Sikorsky's career in Russian aviation.
He emigrated to France where he was commissioned to build a bomber for
Allied service. The aircraft was still on the drawing board when the
Armistice was signed. Sikorsky was unable to find a position in
France. This was the reason he emigrated to the United States in 1919.
Unable to find a position in aviation, Sikorsky resorted to
teaching. He lectured in New York, mostly to fellow Russian émigrés.
Finally, in 1923, a group of students and friends who knew of his
reputation in pre-war Russia pooled their resources to launch his first
American aviation venture, The Sikorsky Aero Engineering Corp. The
first aircraft built was the S-29-A for America, a twin-engine,
all-metal transport which proved a forerunner of the modern airliner.
The company had its biggest success with the twin-engine S-38
amphibian, which Pan American Airways used to open new air routes to
Central and South America. Later, as a subsidiary of United Aircraft
Corporation Sikorsky's company produced the famous Flying Clippers
that pioneered commercial air transportation across both the Atlantic
and Pacific Oceans. The last Sikorsky flying boat, the S-44, held the
Blue Ribbon for the fastest trans-Atlantic passage for years.
Sikorsky returned to the problem of rotary-wing aircraft. He had
developed ideas for possible designs, some of which were patented. On
September 14, 1939, Sikorsky took his VS-300 a few feet off the ground
becoming the western hemisphere's first practical helicopter. Military
contracts followed the success of the VS-300, and in 1943, large-scale
manufacture of the R-4 made it the world's first production
helicopter. The R-4 was followed by a succession of bigger and better
machines and since then, the helicopter has become known for its
ability to perform a many difficult missions in both peace and war.
Even after his retirement in 1957 at the age of 68 he continued to
work as an engineering consultant for Sikorsky. He was at his desk the
day before he died, on October 26, 1972, at the age of 83.