Russian-American aeronautical engineer, aircraft manufacturer, and inventor best known for developing the helicopter.
Igor Sikorsky was born in 1889 to educated parents who were both physicians, although his mother did not practice professionally. His formal training began in 1903, when he enrolled at the Russian Naval Academy in St. Petersburg. His interest in education led him to leave the service in 1906 and to enroll at the Polytechnic Institute in Kiev. At the age of twenty, Sikorsky built his first helicopter, which would not leave the ground. In 1911, he set a record by flying for thirty minutes at 70 miles per hour in the S-5, a plane he had designed himself. In 1913, at the request of the Russian Army, he designed and built the world’s first four-engine, dual-controlled airplane, which served as a bomber in World War I.
A strong anti-Bolshevist, Sikorsky left Russia after the Revolution of 1917 and made his home in the United States. He became a U.S. citizen in 1928. He originally joined in business with a group of Russian immigrants building airplanes, but the business failed. In 1923, he started over, forming the Sikorsky Aero Engineering Corporation, which built “flying boats” for Pan American’s transoceanic flights and fifty-six “aerial yachts” for wealthy clients. After the stock market crash of October, 1929, his once-wealthy clients could no longer meet their payments, ending his independent company, which became a division of the United Aircraft Corporation. Sikorsky continued to head the division until his retirement.
In 1939, Sikorsky developed the VS-300, the first helicopter with controlled-pitch blades. This innovation turned out to be instrumental in making helicopters practical. Although early helicopter models were used in World War II after 1944, they came of age during the 1950’s. Sikorsky also designed a patrol bomber, known as the Flying Dreadnought, for the U.S. Air Force’s use in World War II. Sikorsky continued to be a vital part of the company even after his 1957 retirement at the age of 68. He consulted on design and on business matters and was at his desk the day before his death at 83 years of age.
Cochrane, Dorothy. The Aviation Careers of Igor Sikorsky. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1989. Follows Sikorsky’s development through his varied roles in the aircraft industry. Delear, Frank J. Igor Sikorsky: Three Careers in Aviation. New York: Bantam, 1992. A biography that focuses on the place Sikorsky holds in the early development of aircraft. Sikorsky, Igor. Story of the Winger-S. Reprint. Temecula, Calif.: Reprint Services, 1995. Sikorsky’s autobiography, written in 1938, which chronicles his development as an aircraft designer and builder. Spenser, Jay P. Whirlybirds: A History of the U.S. Helicopter Pioneers. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1998. Places Sikorsky in perspective with other people involved with the development of helicopters.
Vertical takeoff and landing