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Engineers that changed the world – Igor Sikorsky

written by: johnsinit•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 12/13/2008

Igor Sikorsky is the man who created the first functional helicopter. He also pioneered many other works in aviation – particularly the first four engine aircraft and the first flying boats. This article presents the biography of this notable man.

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    Childhood

    Igor Sikorsky showed, already at the early age, engineering expertise. Trips to Germany with his father, led him to develop an interest in natural sciences and he was building models of flying machines at the age of 12. During this time, he also developed what could be called the first prototype of his subsequent creation – a small rubber-band powered helicopter.

    Sikorsky chose to achieve his degree in engineering, and for this he left for Paris when he was only 14. However even after his graduation, he had not yet decided upon aviation. In 1907, the same year as his graduation, he went to Germany on a trip. There, he learned of the achievements of the Wright Brothers and Count von Zeppelin. In his own words, “within 24 hours” he decided that aviation would be his future.

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    Early works

    With this decided, Sikorsky wanted to focus on creating the first practical helicopter. However, the efforts failed, and he turned towards manufacturing other aircraft, mainly the fixed wing aircrafts. He manufactured the two-seated S-5 and the three-seated S-6. The S-6 was awarded the highest honor at the Moscow Aircraft Exhibition. Afterwards he continued working in the field of aviation, his designs used by the Russian forces and eventually the French forces. He created the first four-engine aircrafts, which were used as Russian bombers in WW1. However, eventually Sikorsky realized that with the devastation following the war amd the Russian revolution, he would no longer be able to have a fruitful career in aviation in Europe. He left for US in 1919.

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    The US career

    In America, Igor Sikorsky realized that aviation had become a ‘dying industry’ and offered him no scope. For several years had he tried to find a breakthrough, but had very little success. Subsequently, he resorted to teaching mathematics in order to make a living. As a professor however, he met people who supported his dream and were willing to offer him financial backing. With this, Sikorsky founded the Sikorsky Aero Engineering Company in 1923. The company initially took time to take off, and almost cost Sikorsky the funding. But finally the S-29, America’s first twin engine airplane was manufactured. It could carry 14 passengers at 115 mph. The Sikorsky company was later purchased by United Aircraft. Nevertheless, Sikorsky’s dream of creating the helicopter came true only in 1939. He developed the VS-300, the world’s first practical helicopter. Today, the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation (with headquarters in Connecticut) is one of the leading helicopter manufacturers in the world.

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    Legacy and Achievements

    For his achievements in the world of aviation, Sikorsky has been honored many times. He was presented with the Order of St. Vladimir for the development of 4 engine bombers while in Russia. An airport near the office headquarters of Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation and a bridge across the Housatonic River that carries the Merritt Parkway has been named after him. He also received the Wright Brothers Memorial Award and the National Medal for Science.

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    Igor Sikorsky