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Igor Sikorsky

Born in Kiev, Russia, on May 25, 1889, Igor (Ivan) Sikorsky developed an early interest in aviation. He learned of the Wright brothers during a trip to Germany as a youth and also became familiar with the work of Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin.

He graduated from the Petrograd Naval College and studied engineering in Paris and Kiev. In 1909, he returned to Paris, then the aeronautical center of Europe, to learn about the fledgling science. While there, he became acquainted with some of the men who would become well known in the field of aviation. Against their advice, Sikorsky decided to build a helicopter. He purchased a 25-horsepower (18.6-kilowatt) Anzani engine and returned to Kiev to begin building a rotary-wing aircraft.


Igor Sikorsky (1889-1972) as a young man

Igor Sikorsky (1889-1972) as a young man.

Credits - Sikorski Archives

The helicopter failed, as did its successor due to a lack of power and understanding of the aerodynamics of vertical flight. Undeterred, Sikorsky turned his attention to fixed-wing aircraft.

His first fixed-wing plane, the S-1 failed, because its 15-horsepower (11.2-kilowatt) engine was inadequate. His second plane, the S-2 was a success. His fifth plane, the S-5, won him national recognition. With its 50-horsepower (37.3-kilowatt) engine, he could stay aloft for more than an hour, reach heights of 1,500 feet (457 meters), and make short trips. He also earned license number 64 from the F‚d‚ration Aéronautique Internationale. His S-6-A received the highest award at the 1912 Moscow Aviation Exhibition, and later that year, won first prize in the military competition at Petrograd. Sikorsky also began supplying aircraft to the Russian army.

His next step, which came about as a result of a mosquito-clogged carburetor and subsequent engine failure, was to design and build the world's first four-engine plane. "Le Grand," featured innovations such as an enclosed cabin, a lavatory, upholstered chairs, and an exterior catwalk atop the fuselage where passengers could get some fresh air. His next plane was the even larger Ilia Mourometz, which was used as a bomber during World War I.

The Russian Revolution ended Sikorsky's career in Russia. He immigrated to France where he was commissioned to build a bomber for Allied service. But the war ended and Sikorsky, after searching in vain for a position in French aviation, immigrated to the United States in 1919.

The VS-300, Sikorsky·s first successful helicopter

The VS-300, Sikorsky's first successful helicopter


After a few years in the United States, Sikorsky established his own company, the Sikorsky Aero Engineering Corporation. By 1929, the company was producing the S-38 twin-engine amphibians. In 1931, the first S-40, the 'American Clipper,' rolled off the assembly line. In the following years, his planes set new records for altitude, speed, and payload.

He made his most important contributions, however, in the area of helicopter design. His VS-300, first built and flown in 1939, became America's first successful helicopter and introduced a new mode of military and commercial transportation. On May 6, 1941, in an improved version, he established an international endurance record of 1 hour 32.4 seconds.

Sikorsky stayed active in his company until his death on October 26, 1972.