The World's Forum for Aerospace Leadership

  • Donate
  • Press Room
  • Renew
  • View Cart
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

    Pioneer Profile

    Igor Sikorsky (1889-1972)

    Igor-SikorskyBorn Kiev, Russia, 2 May 1889.
    Died 26 October 1972.

    Learning of the works of the Wright brothers and Count Zeppelin, Igor Sikorsky's interest in aviation was kindled as a boy. He graduated from Petrograd Naval College, studied engineering in Paris, and returned to Kiev in 1907 to enter Polytechnical Institute. In 1909, he went back to Paris-then the aeronautical center of Europe-to learn more about the fascinating science of flight. Having learned what he could of aviation as it was then known in Europe, he bought an Anzani engine and went home to begin construction of a rotary-wing aircraft.

    His first attempts failed due to a lack of power and an understanding of the complex rotary-wing art. Undaunted, he turned his efforts to conventional aircraft and found success with the S-2, the second airplane of his design and construction. His fifth airplane, the S-5, brought him national recognition as well as FAI pilot license Number 64. In 1912 his S-6-A received the highest award at Moscow's Aviation Exhibition, and that year his aircraft won first prize in military competitions at Petrograd. This led to a position as head of the aviation subsidiary of the Russian Baltic Railroad Car Works, where, as a result of clogged carburetor and subsequent engine failure, he conceived the idea of an aircraft having more than one engine-a radical idea at the time. The result of this was an engineering project that gave the world its first multi-engine airplane, the four-engined "Grand." This revolutionary aircraft also offered an enclosed cabin, upholstered chairs, lavatory, even an exterior catwalk on the fuselage where passengers could walk while in flight.

    There followed an even bigger aircraft, Ilia Mourometz, named for a legendary tenth-century folk hero. More than 70 military versions of the Ilia Mourometz were built for use as bombers during The World War. The Revolution ended Mr. Sikorsky's career in Russian aviation, and he immigrated to France, then to the USA in 1919. Unable to find a position in aviation he resorted to teaching and lecturing in New York, mostly to fellow emigrants. Then some students and friends who knew of his reputation in Russia pooled their resources in 1923 to fund the Sikorsky Aero Engineering Corporation.

    The first product from the young and financially shaky concern was the S-29-A ("A" for America), a twin-engine, all-metal transport which proved a forerunner of the modern airliner. Other aircraft designs followed, but the company achieved its most notable success with the twin-engine S-38 amphibian, which Pan American Airways used to open air routes to Central and South America. Later, as a subsidiary of United Aircraft Corporation, the company operated the luxurious Flying Clippers which pioneered commercial air transportation across both oceans. The last Sikorsky flying boat, S-44, would for years hold the record for fastest transatlantic flight.

    The dormant concept of the helicopter resurfaced, and Sikorsky turned once again to notes and sketches he had jotted down for possible designs, some of which were patented. On 14 September 1939, he took his VS-300 a few feet off the ground to give the western hemisphere its first practical helicopter, the child from which today's helicopter industry grew. Military contracts followed and, in 1943, large-scale manufacture made the R-4 the world's first production helicopter.

    Awards and honors accorded to Igor Sikorsky would fill many pages, and include the National Medal of Science, the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy, the Collier Trophy, the USAF Academy's Thomas D. White National Defense Award, the Guggenheim Medal, and the Royal Aeronautical Society's Silver Medal. He was inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame in 1968.

    Even after his retirement in 1957 at age 68, Sikorsky continued to work as an engineering consultant for his company, and was at his desk the day before he died.

    Visit the Russia Profile for more information on Russian pioneers.

    Provided to the AIAA for the sole purpose of its Evolution of Flight Campaign.

    Biography Courtesy of AeroFiles