Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky

(1889—1972) Russian-born American aircraft designer

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Russian-born US aircraft designer responsible for the first commercially successful helicopter.

Born in Kiev, the son of a psychology professor, Sikorsky trained as an engineer at the Naval Academy in St Petersburg. His interest in flying was stimulated by accounts of Leonardo da Vinci's designs for helicopters, and he built two rotating-wing machines in 1908; neither rose from the ground. At this point he turned to more conventional fixed-wing designs and accepted the job of chief designer of the aircraft division of the Baltic Railway Car Factory in Petrograd. Here in 1913 he constructed the world's first four-engined aeroplane to fly. Known as the Bolshoi, it served as the basis of Sikorsky's Ilya Mourametz, the first four-engined bomber, seventy-three of which were delivered to the military before 1917.

Strongly opposed to the Russian revolution of 1917, Sikorsky emigrated to the USA, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1928. After some years teaching, he set up his own company and began, initially, to design and produce seaplanes. In 1929 his company became a subsidiary of United Aircraft, for whom he built the S-42 flying boat. In the 1930s Sikorsky turned once more to the design of helicopters. On 14 September 1939 his VS-300 first flew on a tethered test rig. Sikorsky found that his helicopter, when released, could fly in all directions except forwards. Dismissing this as a ‘minor engineering problem’, he continued with the machine's development and, suitably modified, it became the first helicopter to be produced in any quantity. Large numbers were purchased by the US army and in 1950 the RAF bought their first helicopter, the Westland-Sikorsky Dragon Fly. Sikorsky continued to develop his original helicopter design creating, for example, the S-61, an amphibious version, and the S-64, a cargo model. The growing demand for helicopters, both military and civilian, made Sikorsky one of the richest engineers in aviation history.

Subjects: Warfare and Defence.

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