History Сreators

The Air Routes. The Essay on the biography and scientific activity of Igor Sikorsky

The sev­enth essay in the “Creators” series is ded­i­cat­edIgor Sikorsky , an out­stand­ing engi­neer, pilot, one of the founders of mod­ern avi­a­tion. He was born in Kyiv. He built air­planes and heli­copters in St. Petersburg and America. And wher­ev­er he was, there was a sky above all cities, coun­tries and con­ti­nents, in which he laid his “air paths”. In the “Creators” project T-invari­ant togeth­er with RASA (Russian-American Science Association) and with the sup­port of Richard Lounsbery Foundation con­tin­ues to pub­lish a series of bio­graph­i­cal essays about peo­ple from the Russian Empire who made sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to world sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy, about those to whom we owe our new real­i­ty.< /​strong>

Kyiv. Early years

Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky was born on June 6 (May 25, old style) 1889 in Kyiv, in the fam­i­ly of a famous psy­chi­a­trist, pro­fes­sor of the depart­ment of men­tal and ner­vous dis­eases at Kyiv University Ivan Alekseevich Sikorsky (1842-1919) and Maria Stefanovna Sikorskaya, née Temryuk-Cherkasova .

Ivan Sikorsky was a doc­tor of med­i­cine, head of the depart­ment at the Kyiv University of St. Vladimir. In 1896, he found­ed the jour­nal “Issues of Neuropsychic Medicine and Psychology.” He wrote a trea­tise “On Stuttering” and worked exten­sive­ly on treat­ing chil­dren with men­tal disorders.

Ivan Sikorsky was a Russian nation­al­ist. He par­tic­i­pat­ed in the work of the Kyiv Club of Russian Nationalists. In 1913, as a med­ical expert, he sup­port­ed the pros­e­cu­tion in the Beilis case , for which he was sub­ject­ed to harsh crit­i­cism and accu­sa­tions of anti-Semitism. He took these events seri­ous­ly, fell ill and was unable to teach. Igor Sikorsky loved and always sup­port­ed his father. He believed that his father had been slan­dered. But, as the doc­u­ments from the Beilis case show, the great inven­tor was wrong about this. Professor Vladimir Serbsky wrote that Sikorsky “com­pro­mised Russian sci­ence and cov­ered his gray head with shame” (1).

Maria Stefanovna Sikorskaya received a med­ical edu­ca­tion, but devot­ed her­self to rais­ing five chil­dren, the youngest of whom was Igor Sikorsky. Maria Sikorskaya told chil­dren a lot about the inven­tions of Leonardo da Vinci. This became a source of inspi­ra­tion for Igor, who, as a young man, designed his first fly­ing machine (2). It was a sim­ple mod­el with a pro­peller dri­ven by a rub­ber band dri­ve. Of course, the mod­el could only fly straight up and was uncon­trol­lable in flight. But it took off.

In 1900, Igor Sikorsky entered the First Kyiv Gymnasium. It was a famous edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tion. Among its grad­u­ates were the artist Nikolai Ge, the econ­o­mist and Minister of Finance of the Russian Empire Nikolai Bunge, the his­to­ri­an Yevgeny Tarle and many oth­er cul­tur­al and polit­i­cal fig­ures. But Sikorsky him­self was not very attract­ed to clas­si­cal edu­ca­tion. Following the exam­ple of his old­er broth­er Sergei, in 1903 Igor became a cadet at the Naval School in St. Petersburg. This school trained ship­build­ing engi­neers, but even here Sikorsky did not feel at home: he want­ed to build not ships, but air­craft. And after 3 years he left the school.

Cadet Igor Sikorsky (on the right) with his broth­er Sergei and sis­ters Lydia, Olga and Elena https://static.ukrinform.com/photos/2019_05/1558716605-206.jpg

Following the advice of his father, Igor Sikorsky went to Paris, where he stud­ied at the Duvignot de Lanno tech­ni­cal school for six months. It was a good time in Sikorsky’s life. At school, many stu­dents and teach­ers were lit­er­al­ly fans of avi­a­tion. Six months lat­er, Sikorsky returned to Kyiv and entered the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute. Here Sikorsky con­tin­ued his work on cre­at­ing heav­ier-than-air aircraft.

There was an aero­nau­tics cir­cle at the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute and Sikorsky became a mem­ber of it. The cir­cle was led by math­e­mati­cian Nikolai Delaunay and elec­tri­cal engi­neer Nikolai Artemyev. He was rec­om­mend­ed as a pro­fes­sor at KPI by the famous mechan­i­cal sci­en­tist Nikolai Zhukovsky, one of the founders of hydro- and aero­dy­nam­ics. Igor Sikorsky lat­er wrote about Zhukovsky in con­nec­tion with aero­dy­nam­ic research: “The first lab­o­ra­to­ry of this kind was opened in Russia for many years before such insti­tu­tions appeared in oth­er coun­tries. It was the Aerodynamic Institute in the vil­lage of Kuchino near Moscow. It was found­ed by D. P. Ryabushinsky. Moscow University pro­fes­sor Nikolai Egorovich Zhukovsky, who was one of the first sci­en­tists to shed light on this hith­er­to unknown area of tech­nol­o­gy and sci­ence, took part in his sci­en­tif­ic work.” Sikorsky under­stood per­fect­ly well that sci­ence could save a lot of time for an engi­neer who builds an air­craft; it could become his eyes, and with­out it he would have to work in the dark by touch.

In 1908, Sikorsky trav­eled with his father to Berchtesgaden, Germany, where he learned about the flights of broth­ers Wilbur and Orville Wright. Throughout 1908, Europe was shak­ing a lit­tle with excite­ment. Wilbur Wright flew over Paris: the air­plane made cir­cles and loops, lift­ed pas­sen­gers into the sky (one at a time) and even a cam­era­man. This was not the first heav­ier-than-air air­craft, but no one had man­aged to achieve such con­trol­la­bil­i­ty and car­ry­ing capac­i­ty before.

Sikorsky nev­er grad­u­at­ed from any high­er edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tion. In this he is a bit like the com­put­er genius­es of the 1970s: why learn any­thing from peo­ple who don’t under­stand any­thing about what inter­ests you? You just need to build air­planes or com­put­ers and grad­u­al­ly gain expe­ri­ence. But Sikorsky nev­er­the­less received an engi­neer­ing diplo­ma - in 1914 at the St. Petersburg Polytechnic Institute with­out defend­ing his diplo­ma for the cre­ation of mul­ti-engine airships.

Dream of a helicopter

In 1907, the French design­er Paul Cornu took off from the ground for the first time on a heli­copter: he rose 30 cm on his device. But there was still no flight. Not because he rose so low, but because his air­craft was uncontrollable.

Cornu’s heli­copter was a rec­tan­gu­lar frame with two pro­pellers mount­ed on oppo­site sides. (This is the so-called coax­i­al heli­copter design - many years lat­er such machines were also built, they actu­al­ly flew. Already in our time, two more pro­pellers were added to the devices, and the result was the most pop­u­lar drone mod­el in our time - a quadro­copter). The engine and the tester him­self were locat­ed on the frame. When the pro­pellers were launched, the device rose to the ground. Its pow­er was enough to lift its own weight and the weight of the tester. But for a real flight this is not enough. It is not only nec­es­sary to rise and fall. You need to fly for­ward, make a turn, but Cornu’s heli­copter could not maneu­ver. The Wright broth­ers’ air­plane could do all this, and it was clear that heli­copters still had to learn all this.

What is the dif­fer­ence between a heli­copter and an air­plane and why every­thing is much more com­pli­cat­ed with a heli­copter. An air­plane has a glid­er - it can fly even with the pro­peller turned off, although not for long, but it can. But if a helicopter’s pro­peller turns off, it sim­ply falls. That is, the air­plane maneu­vers due to small changes in the wings and tail. In a heli­copter, the main rotor must be respon­si­ble for all this: there is sim­ply noth­ing more. He keeps the device in the air and maneuvers.

In gen­er­al, when the Wrights built their air­plane, they flew it for quite a long time with­out a motor: it was a pure glid­er , in which they worked out pre­cise­ly the maneu­vers: up and down (or pitch), yaw - turns left and right in the hor­i­zon­tal plane, and roll on the left and right wings. Just the roll allows you to turn around in the air.

The Wrights invent­ed ele­va­tors. With their help, ascent and descent were car­ried out. The ele­va­tor con­trolled addi­tion­al “wings” that were attached to the low­er wing of the biplane and turned up and down. The yaw was con­trolled by the tail rud­der. The roll was car­ried out by a slight defor­ma­tion of the wings: if the wings skewed to the left, the air­plane turned to the left, and vice versa.

The Wright broth­ers’ glid­er flies with­out a motor, but it can already maneu­ver in the air. https://habr.com/ru/companies/macloud/articles/566418/

And then they installed a light motor on the glid­er. And the air­plane real­ly flew. When maneu­ver­ing, the pro­peller always oper­ates in approx­i­mate­ly the same mode; at least, it does not need to be turned. The entire maneu­ver is accom­plished through changes in the wings and tail.

Most of the Wright broth­ers’ ideas were tak­en up by many engi­neers. They were active­ly devel­oped. But all these bold ideas and fine adjust­ments did not help much in cre­at­ing the heli­copter. It does­n’t have wings.

Flight con­trol dia­gram of a mod­ern air­craft. A) - ailerons - wings con­trolled by the steer­ing wheel B). They pro­vide left and right roll and turn in the air. The Wrights did not have ailerons; roll was pro­vid­ed by wing defor­ma­tion. C) - tail wings (they are con­trolled by ele­va­tors B). They are respon­si­ble for ascent and descent. The hor­i­zon­tal rud­der D) is respon­si­ble for yaw along the hor­i­zon­tal plane. Wikipedia. Elevators.

In 1911, a young engi­neer, a stu­dent of Zhukovsky, Boris Yuriev, patent­ed a heli­copter with one main rotor, a main rotor swash­plate and a tail rotor. With this design, the main rotor is deflect­ed left and right to pro­vide roll or back and forth to lift and descend. And the tail rotor, mount­ed on the tail, is respon­si­ble for head­ing sta­bil­i­ty. The swash­plate invent­ed by Yuriev is sim­i­lar to the one that Sikorsky used many years lat­er in America. Did Sikorsky know about Yuriev’s work? Perhaps he knew. Moreover, in 1933, Yuriev lift­ed the first Soviet heli­copter into the sky.

Igor Sikorsky built a snow­mo­bile and car­ried pas­sen­gers on it across the frozen Dnieper. Source: Katyshev G.I., Mikheev V.R. Wings of Sikorsky. M., Voenizdat, 1992, behind-the-text illustrations.

Air route. Home

In 1920, in New York, Igor Sikorsky wrote the book “Air Route”. How it was dis­cov­ered, how it is used now and what can be expect­ed from it in the future” (3) This book was writ­ten by a very young man - he was 28 years old. But it was writ­ten by a man who expe­ri­enced a lot, did a lot and lost a lot. These are real mem­oirs. Who would think of writ­ing mem­oirs at 28? Only to those who do not see their future and take stock. Thank God, these results turned out to be intermediate.

In this book, Sikorsky described his first acquain­tance with ornithopters (mac­ho­lets), heli­copters and air­planes. He talked about how he him­self paved the “air route”. By its nature, this is both a pop­u­lar sci­ence book, in which many tech­ni­cal aspects of the con­struc­tion of air­planes are dis­cussed, and these are pilot sto­ries, some­times rem­i­nis­cent of the books of Saint-Exupery.

Sikorsky writes about how he dis­cov­ered heli­copters and how he tried to build them in 1908 and 1910: “The idea of such a device was first encoun­tered more than 400 years ago by Leonardo da Vinci, who in one of his draw­ings depict­ed a heli­copter with pro­pellers rotat­ing using han­dles by a per­son. During the 19th cen­tu­ry, many mod­els of heli­copters were built, pow­ered by a twist­ed rub­ber band, a spring, and even a light steam engine. All of these were small devices, weigh­ing from a small frac­tion of a pound to sev­er­al pounds… Here there turns out to be a very seri­ous dif­fi­cul­ty: the fact is that in prac­ti­cal­ly a small device you can get much more thrust for each engine horse­pow­er than in a large one. In 1908, I built a small heli­copter that weighed no more than ¼ pound, was pro­pelled by a rub­ber band and flew perfectly.”

In 1910, Sikorsky decid­ed to build a “real heli­copter.” That is, at least, such that it will tear its cre­ator off the ground. His heli­copter is very sim­i­lar to Cornu’s. But Sikorsky was unable to lift his appa­ra­tus. He gives esti­mates of the required engine pow­er that is need­ed to lift the device off the ground, and shows that the pow­er of his device was about 9 pounds. And this is not enough to lift both a car with an engine and a per­son. That is, in essence, Sikorsky hit the engine pow­er bar­ri­er. It was sim­ply not enough for a ver­ti­cal take­off, but for a “flat” take­off, which is how an air­plane takes off, this pow­er was already enough.

Sikorsky writes: “…the device lift­ed its own weight almost com­plete­ly. Having received a num­ber of inter­est­ing sci­en­tif­ic data, I stopped these exper­i­ments, switched the engine to a light air­plane built by that time, and on June 3, 1910, I took off for the first time in it.”

But he nev­er for­got the heli­copter. Having list­ed numer­ous (and, as it turned out, insur­mount­able at that time) dif­fi­cul­ties, Sikorsky writes: “Does this mean that one should not think about a heli­copter in the same way as about an instru­ment with beat­ing wings - an ornithopter? No way. A heli­copter can be imple­ment­ed, and it would be very use­ful as an aux­il­iary device, since it would have one very valu­able advan­tage over an air­plane: a prop­er­ly designed heli­copter should be able to take off from any place with­out a run-up and land on the ground with­out hav­ing enor­mous speed move­ments. Thus, a heli­copter could take off and land on the roofs of hous­es inside the city, on the deck of a ship, on the small­est plat­form, court­yard, etc., while such places are com­plete­ly inac­ces­si­ble for an airplane.”

Airplanes first

Igor Sikorsky built his first air­plane in 1910 togeth­er with engi­neer Fedor Bylinkin and stu­dent Vasily Jordan (Iordan). It was a biplane, which the design­ers called BIS No. 1 (BJS, in eng­lish trans­la­tion) (Bylinkin, Jordan, Sikorsky). Igor Sikorsky flew on an improved mod­el of BIS No. 2 on June 3, 1910, in the pres­ence of mem­bers of the Kyiv Aeronautics Society. Its dura­tion was 12 sec­onds, height - 1.2 meters, length in a straight line - 182 meters. This was the first suc­cess­ful flight, after which Sikorsky made more than 50 of them, grad­u­al­ly improv­ing the air­craft. It took a year to build a real air­plane - S-5

Sikorsky writes: “In the mid­dle of sum­mer, the S-5 was already able to make flights of up to ½ hour last­ing, take off from its air­field and walk over the sur­round­ing forests and vil­lages at an alti­tude of 200-300 meters (100-150 fath­oms). Flying at this and high­er alti­tudes requires much less atten­tion and stress than fly­ing low above the ground. Therefore, dur­ing such a flight, you can freely look around and admire the unusu­al­ly beau­ti­ful and very spe­cial sight that opens from the air­plane. It’s clear that this first sum­mer of real flights left an indeli­ble memory.”

This mod­el was no longer infe­ri­or to the Wright broth­ers’ air­planes. Note that the names of almost all the mod­els built by Sikorsky were not par­tic­u­lar­ly diverse (except that the heavy air­planes S-21 and S-22 also had oth­er names “Russian Knight” “Russky Vityaz”, and “Ilya Muromets”): the design­er put the first let­ter of his sur­name ( “C” - in Russia, or “S” - in America) and mod­el num­ber. The design­er got old­er, and the mod­el num­bers grad­u­al­ly increased.

He built his own machines and flew. “Under the air­plane there is a huge map, on which in clear weath­er you can make out the small­est details. Lakes, rivers, even the small­est ones, roads are very sharply and clear­ly vis­i­ble; you can eas­i­ly see streets and even indi­vid­ual hous­es. All this is clear­ly vis­i­ble from a height of 1-2 or even more miles, but indi­vid­ual peo­ple are already invis­i­ble. It would be nat­ur­al to expect that from an air­plane fly­ing at high alti­tude one can see very far in all direc­tions. This actu­al­ly hap­pens, but not always. Usually the air is not clean and trans­par­ent enough. You can see quite well what is direct­ly under the appa­ra­tus, it is some­what worse to see oblique­ly, and fur­ther, more than 10-15 ver­sts from the appa­ra­tus, the ground com­plete­ly ceas­es to be vis­i­ble and appears for a long dis­tance to be cov­ered with a fog­gy veil - haze. This is usu­al­ly the case on a clear sun­ny day. In fog or rain you can see much less, and very often you can’t see the ground at all. But there are days when the air is excep­tion­al­ly clean and trans­par­ent. Most often this hap­pens at dawn. At such a time, from an air­plane fly­ing at an alti­tude of 2-3 miles, you can see in all direc­tions over a huge dis­tance. I had to make over 1000 flights over Petrograd and its envi­rons and was able to expe­ri­ence such weath­er more than once. At the same time, it hap­pened that at a flight alti­tude of 2-3 ver­sts from an air­plane it was pos­si­ble to see at the same time the island of Kotlin, part of the Gulf of Finland, the Neva along its entire length and about a third of Lake Ladoga. Thus it was pos­si­ble to see 60-70 miles in all directions.”

On the mod­el S-6 Sikorsky reached a speed of 113 km/​h. It was this air­plane that Sikorsky con­tin­ued to improve the fol­low­ing year, but now not as a free­lance artist, but as an air­craft design­er at the Russian-Baltic Wagon Plant, where he was invit­ed by the chair­man of the board of direc­tors of the Russo-Ballet, General Mikhail Shidlovsky. He entrust­ed a very young - 23-year-old engi­neer - with the most respon­si­ble work and did not miscalculate.

Biplane S-6. https://uain.press/uploads/2022/06/Igor-Sikorskij-3.jpg

“Ilya Muromets”

From 1912 to 1918, Sikorsky head­ed the design bureau of the avi­a­tion depart­ment of the Russian-Baltic Wagon Plant (German: Russisch-Baltische Waggonfabrik). At this time he was design­ing a whole series of new air­craft. The “Grand” appa­ra­tus (lat­er renamed “Russian Knight”) was built in 1913. The plane had four engines, weighed 4 tons and had a flight speed of 90 km/​h. It became the pro­to­type for many pas­sen­ger and trans­port air­craft and bombers. The device real­ly amazed its con­tem­po­raries: the span of the upper wing was 27 meters, the low­er wing was 20 meters, and the wing area was 120 square meters. The pilots were seat­ed in a glass cockpit.

Sikorsky writes: “Most peo­ple work­ing in aero­nau­tics at that time believed that a huge air­plane would not be able to rise from the ground, that it would be ter­ri­bly dif­fi­cult to con­trol, and final­ly, they point­ed out that if one of the engines stopped, the air­plane would cap­size… I stuck to the oth­er opin­ions and believed that it was pos­si­ble to cre­ate a large air­ship and that it would fly bet­ter and more reli­ably than small air­craft. A hap­py coin­ci­dence of cir­cum­stances made the con­struc­tion of the air­ship pos­si­ble. The fact is that at that time, at the head of the Russian-Baltic Wagon Plant, where small air­planes of my sys­tem were built, there was a man of out­stand­ing intel­li­gence and deter­mi­na­tion - Mikhail Vladimirovich Shidlovsky. As a for­mer naval offi­cer who had cir­cum­nav­i­gat­ed the world, he clear­ly under­stood how reli­able nav­i­ga­tion in the ocean of air could be achieved. When in the sum­mer of 1912 I intro­duced him to the cal­cu­la­tions and draw­ings of a large air­plane with four engines, with an enclosed spa­cious cab­in, M.V. Shidlovsky wished that the con­struc­tion of such an air­ship be imme­di­ate­ly start­ed at the Russian-Baltic Plant. That same evening, August 17, 1912, the lay­ing of this air­plane took place. While it was being built, many were dis­trust­ful of the fact that this large, heavy machine could take off. The air­plane was com­plet­ed and assem­bled on the field in the spring of 1913. Several runs in a straight line, dur­ing which the air­plane slight­ly sep­a­rat­ed from the ground, showed that every­thing was fine. Finally, on May 13th, it was decid­ed to try to get into the air for real. It is clear that I myself fit behind the wheel of my airship.”
And the huge machine took off. But that was only the beginning.

The four-engine S-22 Ilya Muromets was designed and built at the same time. The first pro­to­type was laid down in August 1913, and on December 10 (23), 1913, it first took off from the ground. Test flights have begun.

Sikorsky writes: “The new ship, named “Ilya Muromets”, was com­plet­ed in January 1914. It was even big­ger than “Russian Knight” (Russky Vityaz). Its wings had a span of about 15 fath­oms (about 31 meters), their sur­face was over 300 square arshin(yard) (over 150 sq.m). The ship with its car­go weighed about 300 poods (5 tons). It was dri­ven, like the “Russian Knight”, by 4 Argus motors of 100 hp each. strength everyone.”

But what Sikorsky writes about with par­tic­u­lar pride is the ameni­ties for pas­sen­gers of the Ilya Muromets.
Flights usu­al­ly took place in open cars. And when Sikorsky first took the Russian Knight into the air, which had a closed cock­pit, even at the first moment he was con­fused: there was no wind in his face and there was no usu­al feel­ing of speed, he had to nav­i­gate only by instru­ments. But they quick­ly get used to the comfort.
Sikorsky writes about unprece­dent­ed ameni­ties on the board of “Ilya Muromets”.

“In the large body of this appa­ra­tus there were sev­er­al com­fort­able and spa­cious cab­ins. At the front was the helms­man­’s (pilot’s) room, then there was a liv­ing room, then a small cor­ri­dor and a bed­room. The door to the restroom also opened from the cor­ri­dor. All cab­ins had win­dows through which you could look out dur­ing the flight. The ceil­ing in the cab­ins was so high that one could stand with­out bend­ing over. They were warm because heat­ing was installed. For this pur­pose, part of the hot exhaust gas­es from the engines was passed through a pipe that ran below the wall along the cab­ins. The hot pipe heat­ed the rooms suf­fi­cient­ly. Just in case, the ship had two exter­nal bal­conies that could be accessed dur­ing the flight. One of them was locat­ed on the build­ing above the place where there was a cor­ri­dor and a restroom. This bal­cony could be reached by stairs from the corridor.”
The men­tion of a bal­cony seems com­plete­ly unex­pect­ed to a mod­ern per­son. But the max­i­mum speed of the air­plane was 100-130 km/​h, and the cruis­ing speed was even less. And the height is small - 2-3 kilo­me­ters. So it was quite pos­si­ble to go out onto the bal­cony. The breeze, of course, is not weak, but it will not blow away.

“In February 1914, this air­craft set a world record for flight with the largest car­go and the largest num­ber of pas­sen­gers. The ship eas­i­ly took off and walked over the out­skirts of Petrograd for half an hour, car­ry­ing 16 peo­ple and one four-legged pas­sen­ger, “Shkalik,” who was everyone’s favorite at the air­field. During this flight, the ship lift­ed about 80 poods into the air.”

In the spring of 1914, the first copy of the Ilya Muromets was con­vert­ed into a sea­plane with more pow­er­ful engines. In this mod­i­fi­ca­tion, it was accept­ed by the naval depart­ment and remained the largest sea­plane until 1917. Sikorsky did not yet know that it was sea­planes that would bring him his first fame in America 15 years later.

Ilya Muromets lands at the air­field. Wikipedia

The first long-dis­tance flight of Ilya Muromets was sched­uled for June. It was decid­ed to fly to Kyiv with refu­el­ing in Orsha. Sikorsky writes: “The dis­tance from Petrograd to Kyiv by rail is about 1300 ver­sts. The fastest trains passed it in 26 hours.” This is not to say that the flight went com­plete­ly smoothly.

Before Orsha every­thing was fine. We sat down, refu­eled, but the weath­er turned bad. And it began… “At low alti­tude we flew across the Dnieper and then, just above the build­ings, we flew over the out­skirts of Orsha. Only once you were above the free field could you make a cir­cle and gain a lit­tle height. But here the con­di­tion of the air very soon made itself felt. About 2 min­utes after the start of the flight, when there were some 75 fath­oms alti­tude, the ship sud­den­ly tilt­ed sharply and then threw down 25 fath­oms. When the ship lev­eled out and man­aged to rise a lit­tle high­er again, approx­i­mate­ly the same thing hap­pened again. In addi­tion to such large ones, many small move­ments and rock­ing of the ship in all direc­tions, up and down, were also felt. It was very dif­fi­cult to man­age. However, the flight con­tin­ued, because it was clear that it would be calmer at high alti­tude. I was dri­ving the whole time. About 15 min­utes after the start of the flight, a mechan­ic sud­den­ly ran up to me and began point­ing to the near­est left engine. You could imme­di­ate­ly guess from the mechanic’s face that some­thing was wrong. Taking a clos­er look at the engine, it was not dif­fi­cult to see the rea­son for the mechan­ic’s con­cern. It turned out that the cop­per tube car­ry­ing gaso­line from the tank to the engine had burst, and gaso­line was pour­ing in a wide stream onto the wing. All this last­ed a few sec­onds. The engine quick­ly used up what was in its car­bu­re­tor and stopped, and from the last flash the fire spread to gaso­line, which poured onto the wing. Thus, a fire arose behind the stopped engine, which imme­di­ate­ly assumed quite impres­sive pro­por­tions. Lieutenant Lavrov and the mechan­ic quick­ly climbed onto the wing with fire extin­guish­ers and began to extin­guish it. With their com­bined efforts, the fire was even­tu­al­ly extin­guished, although not with­out dif­fi­cul­ty, espe­cial­ly since the sharp pitch­ing made it very dif­fi­cult to work out­side on the wing. Although the ship was kept in the air on three engines, it was decid­ed to go down to the ground to make the nec­es­sary repairs and, most impor­tant­ly, check the parts that could have been dam­aged by the fire.”

The scene of extin­guish­ing the engine looks com­plete­ly Hollywood, but pilots with fire extin­guish­ers on the wing of a fly­ing air­plane are the real­i­ty of the world in which peo­ple were just learn­ing to fly. We man­aged to land the air­plane. The gas line was sealed and refu­eled. And we flew to Kyiv with­out any spe­cial incidents.

Today, when we grum­ble about the incon­ve­niences of a flight, say­ing that the seats are uncom­fort­able, the food is taste­less, the air is dry, it is some­times worth remem­ber­ing those peo­ple who fell ill with the sky at the begin­ning of the 20th cen­tu­ry. They rose high­er and high­er. They used to fall, break their arms and legs, and die. And if they sur­vived, they took their actu­al­ly very unre­li­able machines into the sky again. They paved our air routes along which we glide so eas­i­ly and care­free today.

The First World War began. The Ilya Murovtsy con­tin­ued to be built at the Russian-Baltic Plant. Now they were bombers. In total, about 60 vehi­cles were built. It was the world’s first true bomber air­craft. The squadron flew 400 sor­ties and dropped 65 tons of bombs.

But the rev­o­lu­tion began. Work at the Russian-Baltic Plant was stopped. Igor Sikorsky’s son Sergei described his father’s escape from Russia: “Igor Ivanovich left Russia because that he was in dan­ger of being shot. At the begin­ning of 1918, one of his for­mer employ­ees, who worked for the Bolsheviks, came to his home at night and said: “The sit­u­a­tion is very dan­ger­ous. I saw the order for your exe­cu­tion.” This was the time of the Red Terror, when peo­ple were shot on the spot, with­out tri­al. And Sikorsky rep­re­sent­ed a dou­ble dan­ger for the com­mu­nists: as a friend of the Tsar and as a very pop­u­lar per­son. All of Petrograd knew him, many looked at him as a hero. The Tsar him­self, Nicholas II, came to the air­field in Tsarskoe Selo to see how the young Russian pilot flies. Having received a warn­ing about the dan­ger, Igor Ivanovich went to Murmansk. From there, on a small English steam­er, he went to Liverpool, then to Paris. The French received him very well and imme­di­ate­ly offered him a con­tract. The talk was about design­ing a new, even more pow­er­ful Muromets. My father worked on this project for almost the entire year. But in November 1918, the war end­ed and the French gov­ern­ment stopped fund­ing mil­i­tary orders. My father lived in Paris for sev­er­al more months. And then, at the begin­ning of 1919, he emi­grat­ed to America.”


On March 30, 1919, Sikorsky sailed to New York on the ocean lin­er Lorraine. The thir­ty-year-old engi­neer ini­tial­ly sur­vived thanks to pri­vate lessons. But Sikorsky, togeth­er with a group of enthu­si­asts, con­tin­ued to work on air­planes. They believed in him, and he believed in them.

On March 5, 1923, Sikorsky found­ed his own avi­a­tion com­pa­ny, Sikorsky Aero Engineering Corporation. Sikorsky him­self became the pres­i­dent of the com­pa­ny, but the post of vice-pres­i­dent was tak­en by the great com­pos­er and pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff. It was Rachmaninoff who invest­ed the ini­tial cap­i­tal of $5,000 in this business.

Rachmaninoff (in the cen­ter) and Sikorsky (to his right) at the S-29 trans­port air­craft. Source: Katyshev G.I., Mikheev V.R. Wings of Sikorsky. M., Voenizdat, 1992, behind-the-text illustrations.

On May 3, 1924, the twin-engine S-29A biplane took off into the sky with twen­ty hap­py com­pa­ny employ­ees on board. In 1927, the air­craft was sold to the famous pilot and busi­ness­man Roscoe Turner, who car­ried out char­ter flights through­out the coun­try. Over time, he resold this car to one of the Hollywood film stu­dios, where he was filmed in a film about the air bat­tles of the First World War.

In 1926, Sikorsky first tried to con­quer the Atlantic. But the S-35 plane, spe­cial­ly cre­at­ed for the flight New York - Paris, met with a dis­as­ter; the pilot and mechan­ic were saved by a mir­a­cle. The sur­viv­ing pilot of the plane, Rene Fonck, instead of curs­ing the air­craft man­u­fac­tur­er, found the mon­ey to finance a new plane. He, unlike the news­pa­per­men who attacked Sikorsky, under­stood how good this machine was, and knew that the inci­dent that almost cost him his life was an acci­dent. But Fonck nev­er became the first pilot to cross the Atlantic: Charles Lindbergh pre­ced­ed him in 1927.

In 1928, Sikorsky began build­ing sea­planes. He pro­duces the S-38 mod­el, which is uncon­di­tion­al­ly rec­og­nized as the best in its class. The small enter­prise received orders from the US Department of Defense and Pan America, from Canada and South America, from Europe, sev­er­al planes even end­ed up in the Soviet Union (one of them is shown in the film “Volga-Volga”). Sikorsky builds a new large plant in Bridgeport, increas­es staff, orga­nizes exem­plary pro­duc­tion, but the Great Depression ruins all plans.

Orders are melt­ing away, already built air­craft are not being sold. But Sikorsky finds a way out: he nego­ti­ates the sale of his com­pa­ny (at that moment it was called Sikorsky Aviation) to United Aircraft.

‘Pan America’ becomes Sikorsky’s cus­tomer. He builds new mod­els and sets record after record: in flight range, in weight moved, in speed (his planes reach speeds of more than 300 km/​h). His S-42 Clipper, built in 1934, flies from America to New Zealand. This is a world­wide success.

Passengers take their seats in the S-40.

Mr. Helicopter

The idea of ​​cre­at­ing a heli­copter, the mod­el of which Sikorsky assem­bled as a young man in 1908, nev­er left him. But in the late 30s he was already a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent per­son - an expe­ri­enced entre­pre­neur, engi­neer and pilot. And a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent state of tech­nol­o­gy, pri­mar­i­ly engines. Now Sikorsky no longer had a prob­lem get­ting the heli­copter into the air: there was more than enough pow­er for a ver­ti­cal takeoff.

Now the prob­lem was dif­fer­ent - in the maneu­ver. Sikorsky choos­es a sim­ple sin­gle-rotor design with a swash­plate. In it, the main rotor is respon­si­ble for all the maneu­vers of the heli­copter - it just needs to be tilt­ed cor­rect­ly either to the sides or back and forth. And to pre­vent the heli­copter from spin­ning, it is sta­bi­lized by a pro­peller on the tail.

But Sikorsky’s first devel­op­ment, called VS-300, “had been learn­ing to fly” for sev­er­al years.

The first mod­el of a Sikorsky heli­copter (with the inven­tor at the con­trols) takes off from the ground. Of course, he is not wear­ing a hel­met, but a hat. Source: Katyshev G.I., Mikheev V.R. Wings of Sikorsky. M., Voenizdat, 1992, behind-the-text illustrations.

The mod­el flew per­fect­ly back­wards and side­ways and did not want to move for­ward. Sikorsky redesigned his heli­copter 18 times in just a year. And the heli­copter took off.

The first heli­copter, which went down in his­to­ry as XR-4 (this was the code name for the mod­el in the mil­i­tary, in “civil­ian” lan­guage - VS-316), took off in mid-January 1942. The mil­i­tary test­ed it on their own and were quite pleased with the result.

130 of these heli­copters were pro­duced, which took part in both mil­i­tary and res­cue oper­a­tions dur­ing the war. Helicopters (of the next gen­er­a­tion) were ordered by the armies of Britain and Canada. But not only the armies need­ed a heli­copter: the next Sikorsky mod­el - the S-51 - was pur­chased by civil­ian depart­ments, res­cuers and the post office. Sikorsky’s suc­cess was the devel­op­ment of the S-55 heli­copter, which was pro­duced for more than 12 years not only in the USA, but also under license in the UK, France and Japan.

Helicopter S-56. https://habr.com/ru/companies/macloud/articles/564846/

The S-61 became the first heli­copter to fly across the Atlantic in 1967, and in 1970 the S-67 flew across the Pacific with addi­tion­al fuel tanks. But this was done by employ­ees of Sikorsky’s com­pa­ny, includ­ing his son, and not by himself.

Planet of People

In America, Igor Sikorsky mar­ried for the sec­ond time. His first fam­i­ly remained in Russia. He mar­ried Elizabeth Semion in 1924 in New York. They had four sons: Sergei, Nikolai, Igor and Georgiy. Their daugh­ter from her first mar­riage, Tatyana, also lived with them for some time.

Sikorsky’s wife is Elizabeth and four sons. Source: Katyshev G.I., Mikheev V.R. Wings of Sikorsky. M., Voenizdat, 1992, behind-the-text illustrations.

Igor Sikorsky was engaged in edu­ca­tion­al activ­i­ties and active­ly par­tic­i­pat­ed in the work of emi­grant orga­ni­za­tions in America. In a cer­tain sense, Sikorsky felt respon­si­ble not only for his fam­i­ly, com­pa­ny or even coun­try, but also for human­i­ty. Being a sin­cere­ly reli­gious per­son, he wrote sev­er­al the­o­log­i­cal works. But even there, Sikorsky returns to the most impor­tant image for him - the air­plane. Only this is no longer a heav­ier-than-air air­craft, ris­ing high on the ground, but the Earth itself and its peo­ple. And peo­ple lack the main thing - faith in God.

In the work “The Invisible Encounter”, com­plet­ed in 1947, when the wounds of the war that had just passed were so painful, Sikorsky will write: “However, it can be stat­ed def­i­nite­ly that mankind being con­trolled and direct­ed by spir­i­tu­al­ly uncon­scious or dead men would be in the posi­tion of a rush­ing air­liner with an uncon­scious or dead crew in the con­trol cab­in. Such lead­er­ship can­not cre­ate rea­son­able and sta­ble forms for the exis­tence of a human soci­ety. All high­er con­cep­tions, which are of def­i­nite­ly spir­i­tu­al ori­gin, such as love, truth, hon­or, free­dom and com­pas­sion, would inevitably lose all bind­ing pow­er, all liv­ing real­i­ty. They would remain only as dead emp­ty shells in the stock­room of col­lec­tive memory.”

And fur­ther: “ I want to stress again that no mat­ter how tempt­ing and promis­ing, or how well sup­port­ed by the­o­ries and sta­tis­tics, all new polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic and social arrange­ments of the world are only the cre­ation of human intel­lect, just as air­craft or radio. An effi­cient air­plane can ren­der more ben­e­fi­cial ser­vices to mankind or it can spread more dread­ful destruc­tion. A per­fect­ed radio can broad­cast more clear­ly good will and enlight­en­ment, or it can spread more effec­tive­ly per­ni­cious lies and hate.”

Sikorsky was the man who built the world’s first bomber air­craft, he worked for the war - both for the army of the Russian Empire and for the Pentagon - his planes and heli­copters not only helped peo­ple get clos­er, not only saved, but it wasn’t heav­en­ly man­na they dropped on the ground. And he under­stood this well.

In the ear­ly 60s, Sikorsky retired. Although he was still full of ener­gy and work in his com­pa­ny was in full swing. New heli­copters were launched, new records were set: range, speed, pay­load. The com­pa­ny flour­ished. His son, Sergei, was already work­ing there. But Sikorsky decid­ed to finish.

He died on October 26, 1972. Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky is buried in the Saint John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cemetery in Stratford, Connecticut, where the Orthodox St. Nicholas Church was built at his expense.


Author of the text: VLADIMIR GUBAILOVSKY

(1) Tager A. S. Tsarist Russia and the Beilis case. M., OGIZ, 1934.
(2) Katyshev G.I., Mikheev V.R. Wings of Sikorsky. M., Voenizdat, 1992
(3) All quotes from Igor Sikorsky are giv­en accord­ing to the pub­li­ca­tion: Air Route. How it was dis­cov­ered, how it is cur­rent­ly used and what can be expect­ed from it in the future. M.: Russian Way, 1998. http://militera.lib.ru/research/sikorsky/index.html< /​a>.


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