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British Industrial History

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Igor Sikorsky

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Igor Sikorsky (25 May 1889/O.S. 13 May 1889 – 26 October 1972) was born Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky. Sikorsky was a Russian-American pioneer of aviation who designed and flew the world's first multi-engine fixed-wing aircraft, developed the first of Pan American Airways' ocean-conquering flying boats in the 1930s. Sikorsky was highly influential in the development of helicopters, founding the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, one of today's leading helicopter manufacturers, in 1925. In 1942, the Sikorsky R-4 became the world's first mass production helicopter, pioneering a rotor layout used by most helicopters today.

Igor Sikorsky was born in Kiev, Russian Empire (today, Ukraine), as the youngest of five children born to Ivan Alexeevich Sikorsky and his wife.

Sikorsky's father, Ivan, was of Russian-Polish descent; the Sikorsky family came from Polish nobility (Polish: szlachta). A professor of psychology, he was the son and grandson of Russian Orthodox priests and held monarchist and Russian nationalist views.

Igor Sikorsky's mother, Mariya Stefanovna Sikorskaya (née Temryuk-Cherkasova), whose father was Ukrainian and whose mother was Russian, was a physician who did not work professionally. While home-schooling young Igor, she gave him a great love for art, especially in the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci, and the stories of Jules Verne.

In 1900, at age 11, he accompanied his father to Germany and became interested in natural sciences through conversations with his father. After returning home, Sikorsky began to experiment with model flying machines, and, by age 12, he had made a small rubber band-powered helicopter.

Sikorsky began studying at the Saint Petersburg Imperial Russian Naval Academy, in 1903, at the age of 14. In 1906, he determined that his future lay in engineering, so he resigned the Academy, despite his satisfactory standing, and left Russia to study in Paris.

He returned to Russia in 1907, enrolling at the Mechanical College of the Kiev Polytechnic Institute. After the academic year, Sikorsky again accompanied his father to Germany in the summer of 1908, where he learned of the accomplishments of the Wright Brothers aircraft and the dirigible airship of Ferdinand von Zeppelin.

With financial backing from his sister Olga, Sikorsky returned to Paris in 1909 to study aeronautics in the world-renowned ETACA (Ecole des Techniques Aéronautiques et de Construction Automobile) engineer school and to purchase aircraft parts. At the time, Paris was the centre of the aviation world. Sikorsky would meet aviation pioneers, to ask them questions about aircraft and flying.

In May 1909, he returned to Russia and began designing his first helicopter, which he began testing in July. Despite his progress in solving technical problems of control, Sikorsky realized that the aircraft would never fly. He finally disassembled the aircraft in October 1909, after he determined that he could learn nothing more from the design.

Sikorsky built the two-seat S-5, his first design that was not based on other European aircraft. Flying this original aircraft, Sikorsky earned his pilot licence; Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) license No. 64 issued by the Imperial Aero Club of Russia in 1911. During a demonstration of the S-5, the engine quit and Sikorsky was forced to make a crash landing to avoid a wall. It was discovered that a mosquito had flown into the petrol and had been drawn into the carburettor, starving the engine of fuel. The close call convinced Sikorsky of the need for an aircraft that could continue flying if it lost an engine. His next aircraft, the S-6 held three passengers and was selected as the winner of the Moscow aircraft exhibition held by the Russian Army in February 1912.

In Spring 1912, Igor Sikorsky became Chief Engineer of the aircraft division for the Russian Baltic Railroad Car Works (Russko-Baltiisky Vagonny Zaved or R-BVZ) in Saint Petersburg.[17]

In 1914, he was awarded an honorary degree in engineering from Saint Petersburg Polytechnical Institute.

Other early work included the construction, as chief engineer, of the first four-engine aircraft, the Russky Vityaz, which he called Le Grand. He was also the test pilot for its first flight, on 13 May 1913. Sikorsky's planes were used by Russia as bombers in World War I — for example, the Ilya Muromets, the world's first four-engined bomber. He was decorated with the Order of St. Vladimir.

After World War I, Igor Sikorsky briefly became an engineer for the French forces in Russia during the Russian Civil War. Seeing little opportunity for himself as an aircraft designer in war-torn Europe (and particularly Russia, ravaged by the October Revolution and Civil War), he emigrated to the United States, arriving in New York on 30 March 1919.

In the United States, Sikorsky first worked as a school teacher and a lecturer, while looking for an opportunity in the aviation industry.

In 1923, helped by several former Russian army officers, he formed the Sikorsky Aero Engineering Company. Among Sikorsky's chief supporters was composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, who introduced himself by writing a cheque for $5,000. Though his prototype was damaged in its first test flight, Sikorsky persuaded his reluctant backers to invest another $2,500; with it, he produced the S-29, one of the first twin-engine planes in America, with a capacity for 14 passengers and a speed of 115 mph. The performance of the S-29, slow though it was compared to military aircraft of even 1918, proved to be a "make or break" moment for Sikorsky's funding.

In 1928, Sikorsky became a naturalized citizen of the United States. The next year, Sikorsky Aero Engineering Company was purchased by, and became a subsidiary of, United Aircraft, itself now a part of United Technologies Corporation. The company manufactured flying boats, such as the S-42, used by Pan Am for trans-Atlantic flights and known as Pan Am Clippers.

In addition to aircraft, Sikorsky also worked on developing helicopters, culminating on 14 September 1939 with the first (tethered) flight of the Vought-Sikorsky VS-300, powered through a single three-blade main rotor and a smaller anti-torque tail-mounted rotor. Its first free (untethered) flight was on May 26, 1940. The VS-300's success led to the R-4, based on the VS-300, becoming the world's first mass produced helicopter in 1942. Sikorsky's VS-300 rotor configuration has proven to be one of the most popular helicopter configurations, being used in most helicopters produced today.

Sikorsky was married to Olga Fyodorovna Simkovitch in Russia. They were divorced and Olga remained in Russia with their daughter as Sikorsky departed ahead of the October Revolution. In 1923, Sikorsky's sisters emigrated to the United States, bringing six-year old Tania with them. Sikorsky married Elisabeth Semion in 1924, in New York. Sikorsky and Elisabeth had four sons; Sergei, Nikolai, Igor Jr., and George.

During the 1930s and 1940s, Sikorsky lived in three different houses, at different times, located in the historic Nichols area of Trumbull before moving to his home in Easton.

Tania Sikorsky Von York (1918 – 22 September 2008) Sikorsky's eldest child and only daughter, Tania was born in Kiev, Ukrainian People's Republic, a short lived republic during the early rise of Russian Bolsheviks, eventually part of the USSR. Educated in the United States, she earned a B.A. at Barnard College and a doctorate at Yale, and was one of the original faculty members of Sacred Heart University in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where she served as Professor of Sociology for 20 years.

Sergei Sikorsky (1925 – ) Sikorsky's eldest son, Sergei served in the United States Coast Guard and earned a degree from the University of Florence. He joined United Technologies in 1951, and retired as Vice-President of Special Projects at Sikorsky Aircraft at the time of his retirement from the company in 1992.

Sikorsky died at his home in Easton, Connecticut, on 26 October 1972. The Sikorsky Bridge, which carries the Merritt Parkway across the Housatonic River next to the Sikorsky corporate headquarters, is named for him. Sikorsky has been designated a Connecticut Aviation Pioneer by the Connecticut State Legislature. The Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation in Stratford, Connecticut, continues to the present day as one of the world's leading helicopter manufacturers, and a nearby small airport has been named Sikorsky Airport.

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