So we recently talked about the man who invented the Intermeshing rotor system. But let’s talk about the Father of the helicopter. Our story takes us back to to the Russian Empire in the little town known as Kiev. Born to Ivan Sikorsky a professor of psychology of Saint Vladimir University. Igor was born in 1889. Out of the six children the Sikorskys had, Igor was the youngest.
His mother home school Igor who became interested in art, he really loved the work and life of Leonardo da Vinci and enjoyed the writings of Jules Verne. When Igor was 11, him and his father traveled to Germany where Igor began to develop an interest in science. After returning home from Germany Igor began to experiment in flying machines. At the age of 12 he made his first rubber band machine which was a helicopter.
Igor began to attend the Saint Petersburg Maritime Cadet Corps, in 1903. At the age of 14 he decided he wanted to be an engineer and resigned from the academy, despite his good grades and high reputations. He then went off to Paris France. In 1907 Igor returned home to the Russian Empire, and enrolled at the Mechanical College of the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute. After his first year in school Igor again joined his father to Germany in the summer of 1908 where he learned of the Wright Brothers accomplishments and of the Zeplin airship. Later in life Igor would say "ater said about this event: “Within twenty-four hours, I decided to change my life’s work. I would study aviation.”
With the support of his sister, Ogla, Igor returned back to Paris, which at the time was the center of the Aviation World, in 1909. Igor met with 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 1909. Though realizing several problems he realized he would never be able to fly the helicopter. He finally disassembled the aircraft in October 1909, after he determined that he could learn nothing more from the design.
His first aircraft he ever design was the S-1, though the aircraft could not fly. His second aircraft was the S-2.
The S-2 was powered by a 25 hp Anzani engine in a tricycle gear, and first flew on June 3, 1910 at a height of a few feet. On June 30 after some modifications, Sikorsky reached an altitude of “sixty or eighty feet” before the S-2 stalled and was completely destroyed when it crashed in a ravine. Igor’s next aircraft was the S-5 which was a two seater version of the S-2. Igor finally got his pilot certificate from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale in 1911. His certificate number is NO 64. As Igor was demonstrating the S-5 the engine quit and was forced to make a crash landing to avoid hitting a wall, the reason for the engine failing? Igor discovered a mosquito in the gasoline that had been drawn to the carb which starved the engine of fuel. Because of this close call Igor realized they needed design an aircraft that could continue flying if it lost an engine. is 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 1912 Igor became the chief designer for the Russian Baltic Railroad Car Works building aircraft in St Petersburg Russia Empire. During his time at the company, Igor built the first four cylinder aircraft, the S-21. Igor test flew the S-21 on May 13th 1913. In recognition for his accomplishment, he was awarded an honorary degree in engineering from Saint Petersburg Polytechnical Institute in 1914. Igor took the S-21 and built the much larger S-22 Airliner.
With World War One on the outbreak Igor redesigned it being the first four engine bomber. Because of this Igor received the Order of St. Vladimir. After World War One Igor returned to France and designed aircraft for the French forces during the Russian Civil War, with Europe in ruins from World War One and the October Revolution Igor took the opportunity to immigrate to America. He moved to New York City in 1919.
Igor’s first job in the US was as a teacher, while looking for an opportunity to work in the aviation industry. Igor became staff at the University of Rhode Island to form an aeronautical engineering program and remained with the university until 1948, he also taught at the University of Bridgeport.
In 1923 Igor began the Sikorsky Manufacturer Company, which would end up becoming Sikorsky Aircraft. With the support of several Russian Military Officers he began the company, Igor’s Chief support was a man named Sergei Rachmaninoff who introduced himself to Igor with a written out check of 5,000, or in today's term 75,247.. Igors first aircraft he built in the US was the S-29, with two engines the S-29 could carry fourteen passengers and was one of the very first American multi engine aircraft. During a test flight the S-29 was damaged and Igor’s investors were cautious but gave him an additional 2,500$. Though the S-29 was slow it proved to the Military that Igor designs were good, that was his make it or break it point.
In 1928 Igor became an American Citizen, The Sikorsky Manufacturer company moved from New York to Stratford Connecticut in 1929. July of 1929 the company merged with United Cooperation Technologies. UCT designed flying boats like the Sikorsky S-42 Clipper for PanAm.
While living in Connecticut, Igor began to develop the Helicopter once again. On February 14, 1929, he filed an application to patent a “direct lift” amphibian aircraft which used compressed air to power a direct lift “propeller” and two smaller propellers for thrust. On June 27, 1931, Sikorsky filed for a patent for another “direct lift aircraft”, and was awarded patent No. 1,994,488 on March 19, 1935. His design plans eventually culminated in the first flight of the Vought-Sikorsky VS-300 on September 14, 1939, with the first free flight occurring eight months later on May 24, 1940.
Because of the success of the VS-300, the R-4 was introduced becoming the worlds first mass production of helicopters.
With the production of the Helicopter the Sikorsky Aircraft Company began the charge of building helicopters. After the R-4 began production in the 1940s the Sikorsky company began working productions on the H-5 or the S-48. Initially the S-48 was used by the Military and became the first commercially used helicopter. Helicopter Transport Airlines (HAT) used the S-58 flying passengers and mail. HAT paid 48,500$ for the first tree of their S-48s In the United Kingdom the S-48s were the first helicopters to fly commercial service between Liverpool and Cardiff using S-51s operated by British European Airways.
In the 1950s the US entered the Korean War this brought the Sikorsky S-55. The S-55 was used by every branch of the Military serving as Search and Rescue, and troop movement. Today the S-55 is used for Cherry Drying Operations in Washington. 1,200 S-55s were built.
As the need for helicopters grew, the support for heavy lifting helicopters were realized thus bringing us the Sikorsky CH-37.
The CH-37 had the ability to fly in 26 fully equipped Marines into combat, the order for the CH-37 was placed in 1951. By 1956 HMX-1 had their first shipment of CH-37s, at the time this was the largest helicopter in the west and the first multi engine helicopter ever in operation.
In 1954 the Sikorsky S-58 entered the world being designed as an anti submarine warfare helicopter, the H-34 also worked closely with NASA retrieving Space capsules. As the S-58 served with the US Military it also served with many civilian airliners and as Marine One. The S-58 still serves several companies to this day.
In 1961 Sikorsky introduced the S-61, again to support anti submarine warfare the S-61 is a multi engine helicopter. Used by many militaries and airlines including British Airways, New York Airways, and recently retired from Air Greenland. The S-61 fights fires today and serves the US in operations all over the world under DoD.
As the US entered the Vietnam War, Sikorsky introduced the CH-54B the Skycrane.
The US Army needed a heavy lift operation that could be used to recover down aircraft in Vietnam. As of 2014, it holds the helicopter record for highest altitude in level flight at (36,000 ft), set in 1971. It also holds the world record for being the fastest helicopter to reach 3,000, 6,000 and 9,000 ft.
Due to budget cuts the Army retired the Skycranes and replaced it with the CH-47. Today several private companies including Erickson fly the Skycrane. Erickson owns the rights and type rating to the CH-54 and can build them under the Erickson S-64.
In 1974 Sikorsky was involved Utility Tactical Transport Aircraft System, this was to be a multi engine helicopter that must use the GE T700s. Based on experience in Vietnam, the Army required significant performance, survivability and reliability improvements from both UTTAS and the new powerplant. Sikorsky proposed now the famous UH-60 Blackhawk.
The Blackhawk has served the US over 40+ years and many private operators. The UH-60 replaced the UH-1 Huey. From one man a legacy of helicopters and aircraft were design that to this day still support world operations. In 1972 Igor passed away in Connecticut At the age of 83.
Igor was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame. In 1987 Igor was also inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame. In November of 2012 the Russian Air Force renamed one of it’s TU-160s the “Igor Sikorsky”
Here is a list of every aircraft Igor is credited with designing and building.
The H-1 Sikorsky’s first helicopter design, 1909
The H-2 Sikorsky’s second helicopter design, 1910
The S-1 single-engine pusher biplane, Sikorsky’s first fixed wing design, 1910
The S-2 single-engine tractor biplane developed from the S-1, 1910
The S-3 enlarged and improved version of the S-2, 1910
The S-4 one-seat, single-engine biplane concept developed from the S-3, never flown, 1911
The S-5 one-seat, single-engine biplane, Sikorsky’s first practical aircraft, 1911
The S-6 three-seat, single-engine biplane, 1912
The S-7 Two-seat, single-engine monoplane, 1912
The S-8 two-seat single-engine biplane trainer, 1912
The S-9 three-seat, single-engine monoplane, 1913
The S-10 five-seat, single-engine biplane reconnaissance/trainer developed from the S-6, 1913
The S-11 Two-seat, single-engine mid-wing reconnaissance monoplane prototype, 1913
The S-12 one-seat, single-engine trainer, Sikorsky’s most successful aircraft in Russia, 1913
The S-15 single-engine light bomber floatplane, 1913
The S-16 two-seat, single-engine escort fighter, 1914-1915
The S-17 two-seat, single-engine reconnaissance biplane based on the S-10, 1915
The S-18 Two-seat, twin-engine pusher biplane fighter/interceptor
The S-20 two-seat biplane fighter, 1916
The S-21 our-engine biplane airliner, first successful four engine aircraft, 1913
The S-22 four-engine biplane airliner and heavy bomber, 1913
The S-29A twin-engine biplane airliner, Sikorsky’s first American design, 1924
The S-38 twin-engined eight-seat flying boat, 1928
The S-42 Clipper flying boat, 1934
The VS-300 experimental prototype helicopter, 1939
The VS-44 flying boat, 1942
The R-4 world’s first production helicopter, 1942
“Aeronatutics was neither an industry nor a science. It was a miracle” - Igor Sikorsky