Introduction: Uncovering Ukraine is a series of short stories about Ukrainians who’ve advanced technology, art and science to new heights. Check out our other articles in this series.
Igor Sikorsky is another outstanding Ukrainian scientist whose name is known all over the world.
Sikorsky, who lived from 1889-1972, is a world-famous aircraft designer. He also created a variety of helicopters, and invented the first multi-engine aircraft.
Sikorsky was born in Kyiv on June 6, 1889, into the family of a famous Kyiv psychiatrist and professor. His mother, Maria Sikorskaya, was a doctor who did not work by profession and instead focused on Sikorsky’s education.
During homeschooling, Maria Sikorskaya instilled in Sikorsky a great love for art, especially for the work of Leonardo da Vinci and for the stories of Jules Verne.
By the age of 12, Sikorsky had become a true follower of da Vinci and he created a small toy helicopter powered by rubber bands. Little did he know that his work as a 12-year-old boy would lay the groundwork for his defining accomplishments.
Sikorsky was educated at the best Kyiv gymnasium at that time, and later at the Naval Cadet Corps in St. Petersburg. After his education in St. Petersburg, he began studies in Paris, wherein he firmly decided that his life will be connected with engineering.
Eventually, Sikorsky returned to Ukraine and studied at the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute (KPI), where he became one of the ideological leaders of the KPI Aeronautical Circle and an active participant in Kyiv Aeronautics Society.
In 1908, Sikorsky built his first helicopter, however, it could not take flight.
The struggle compelled him to concentrate on other aircraft designs, so Sikorsky quit his studies at KPI and became the chief designer of the aviation department of the Russian-Baltic Carriage Works. While there, he increased the power, reliability, and safety of his aircraft by adding several engines to them. His invention, dubbed “Le Grand,” was the first multi-engine aircraft.
In June 1914, Sikorsky and his crew made a record flight from St. Petersburg to Kyiv back to St. Petersburg. Later on, he built a four-engine aircraft called the “Ilya Muromets,” which was used as a commercial airliner and as a bomber during World War I.
In 1918, Sikorsky left Bolshevik Russia forever, emigrated first to Paris, and then later to the United States in 1919.
While in the U.S., he worked as a schoolteacher at an immigrant school and sought out opportunities in the aviation industry. In 1923, he founded the Sikorsky Aero Engineering Corporation in Stratford, Connecticut.
While building the company, Sikorsky had the opportunity to rent a hangar at the local airport where he could buy parts and materials. About a year after starting his company, Sikorsky had created the first American Sikorsky S-29A aircraft. The twin-engine plane made many successful long-range flights, many of which Sikorsky piloted himself.
While working in the U.S., Sikorsky created 17 types of aircraft and 18 types of helicopters, most of which were mass-produced for both civilian and military purposes.
Sikorsky Aircraft is successfully operating to this day, as part of the military-industrial corporation Lockheed Martin.
Sikorsky is the namesake for the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, a memorial bridge and an airport in Connecticut, and a street and an airport in Kyiv.
Sikorsky was inducted into the International Aviation and Space Hall of Fame, and in 2013. Flying magazine ranked Sikorsky No. 12 in its list of 51 Aviation Heroes.
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