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Igor SikorskyIgor Sikorsky

designer of the first four-engine airplane, first practical amphibious airplane, and first helicopter

Igor Sikorsky was born in Kiev, Russia, on May 25, 1889, the son of physicians. Captivated by the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci and the stories of Jules Verne, Igor built a rubber band-powered model helicopter when he was 12 years old. A later, larger model with two propellers actually rose a few feet into the air. Sikorsky entered the Russian Naval Academy in 1903, but left in 1906 to study engineering in Paris; he returned to the Polytechnic Institute of Kiev in 1907.

Once the dream of flight had become a reality, Sikorsky became fixated on developing a flying machine which could rise directly from the ground with a lifting propellor. With financial backing from his sister, he returned to Paris to study aerodynamics and buy components for his helicopter. In 1909, he returned to Kiev with a three-cylinder 25 horsepower Anzani motorcycle engine and built a helicopter with coaxial twin-bladed rotors. Although he was able to successfully demonstrate the principles of rotary-wing lift, the craft was only able to generate about 357 pounds of lift, about 100 pounds less than the craft's empty weight. Sikorsky then returned to Paris to study the near-term promise of the airplane.

the S-5Upon returning to Russia, Sikorsky first built two propellor-driven sleighs. After building another unsuccessful helicopter and three fixed-wing aircraft, he finally gained success with his S-5 model, which he first flew in May 1911. That September he took part in Russian Army maneuvers near Kiev, and proved his S-5 faster than foreign aircraft then in Russian service.

In 1912, Sikorsky became Chief Engineer for the aircraft factory of the Russian Baltic Railroad Car Factory in Petrograd. Soon after, the factory's governing society approved construction of a large, four-engined airplane. When the S-21 --with a wingspan of 89 feet and a gross weight of 9,000 pounds -- first flew on May 13, 1913, Sikorsky became the world's first four-engine pilot. the S-22 four-engine bomberThe even larger S-22 began flying passengers in December 1913; a bomber version first flew in 1914, and went to war with the Imperial Russian Air Force in 1915.

The Bolshevik Revolution drove Sikorsky from Russia in 1918, and he spent the rest of the war working as an engineer for the French. After the war he booked passage for America, and arrived in New York City on March 30, 1919. After a temporary engineering job with the U.S. Army Air Service in Dayton, Ohio, ended he returned to New York and taught mathematics to fellow emigrants.

the S-38 'flying boat'In March 1923, Sikorsky obtained backing for an all-metal, twin-engined passenger plane. The Sikorsky Aero Engineering Corporation began operation on a farm near Roosevelt Field, Long Island, and collected Army surplus materials and parts from junkyards to produce its first aircraft. Its first project, the S-29A, first flew in September 1924. In 1925, the company became The Sikorsky Manufacturing Corporation and flew several new designs. The eight-seat S-36 was Sikorsky's first practical amphibious aircraft and first entered service with Pan American Airways in 1928. The nine-passenger S-38, first flown that same year, ultimately drew orders from ten airlines and the U.S. Navy. Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh inaugurated airmail service between the United States and the Panama Canal Zone with the S-38 in 1929.

In 1929, The Sikorsky Manufacturing Corporation became The Sikorsky Aviation Corporation and purchased land in Stratford, Connecticut. Later that same year, the company became a subsidiary, and later a division, of United Aircraft Corporation, which itself evolved into United Technologies Corporation in 1975.

the S-42 Pan-American ClipperDesigned for the airlines, Sikorsky's S-40 American Clipper first flew in 1931. The bigger, more efficient S-42 Clipper, first flown in 1934, was used by Pan American to open routes across the Pacific and North Atlantic oceans. The Sikorsky line of "flying boats" culminated in the long-ranged VS-44A Excalibur, which could hold up to 40 passengers.

the Sikorsky HelicopterDespite the success of his "flying boats" and amphibious aircraft, Sikorsky never gave up his dream of vertical-lift aircraft. In 1931, he patented a design with the now-familiar helicopter layout -- a single large main rotor and small anti-torque tail rotor -- and, in 1938, United Aircraft accepted Sikorsky's recommendation to develop such an aircraft. The steel tube, open cockpit VS-300 flew for the first time on September 14, 1939, and by the summer of 1940 could stay airborne for 15 minutes at a time. The Sikorsky S-47 was delivered to the U.S. Army Air Corps in May 1942, and became the prototype for the first helicopter produced in quantity for the U.S. armed forces. A Sikorsky R-4 flew the first helicopter mercy mission through a snowstorm in January 1944, delivering blood plasma from Battery Park in Lower Manhattan to Sandy Hook, New Jersey, to aid victims of a steamship explosion. In November 1945, a Sikorsky S-51 conducted the first helicopter hoist rescue when it pulled two seamen from a sinking barge off Connecticut. And, during World War II, Sikorsky helicopters flew the first combat rescue and Medevac missions.

Igor Sikorsky died on October 26, 1972, after completing a full day's work at United Aircraft.

The Sikorsky Company
Igor I. Sikorsky Historical Archives

Leonardo da Vinci
Charles A. Lindbergh
World War II

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This page was last updated on August 30, 2016.

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