Childhood & Early Life
Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky was born in Kiev, in the Russian Empire (currently in Ukraine), on May 25, 1889. His father was Ivan Alexeevich Sikorsky, a professor of psychology at Saint Vladimir University and a well-known psychiatrist. His mother was Mariya Stefanovna Sikorskaya. She was a physician but didn’t work professionally.
Igor Sikorsky was the youngest of five children and was homeschooled by his mother. She helped him develop a great interest in the arts, especially the works of Leonardo Da Vinci and stories by the prominent author Jules Verne.
He developed an interest in natural sciences by the age of 11, and by the age of 12, he had made a small helicopter, powering it with a rubber-band.
At the age of 14, he started attending the Saint Petersburg Maritime Cadet Corps. But when he realized that his future was in engineering, he left the academy and went to Paris. He returned to Russia soon after and enrolled at the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute.
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Igor Sikorsky, while studying at the institute, eventually came to realize that the mathematics and abstract sciences taught there couldn’t provide solutions to actual pragmatic problems. Therefore, he left the school and decided to spend time in his shop and laboratory.
He had a tour through Europe in the summer of 1908, and he came to know of the accomplishments of the Wright brothers. After his return to Paris, he purchased a lightweight engine. His sister Olga assisted him, providing financial backing.
Igor Sikorsky next entered the field of fixed-wing design. He eventually began building his first airplane. His S-1 biplane was tested early in 1910. It had a 15-horsepower engine. It, however, proved to be inadequate. But with further developments, the engine was able to carry him on his first flight even though it was just a short one.
He made an improvement to the design and eventually made the S-3, S-4, and S-5. By mid-1911, his S-5, which had a 50-horsepower engine, was able to stay in the air for more than an hour, and attain a high altitude of 450 meters. He also earned the International Pilot’s License Number 64.
During the Russian Revolution and the collapse of Germany, he decided to move to US because he saw little opportunity in Europe. He landed in New York in March 1919. He spent some years as a lecturer and schoolteacher, and also tried to find a place for himself in the postwar aircraft industry.
Along with a few associates, Igor Sikorsky formed his own company, named the Sikorsky Aero Engineering Corporation. By 1928, he had become a citizen of US. By 1929, the company had become a part of United Aircraft Corporation and occupied a large plant.
They started manufacturing flying boats such as the S-42, which was used for transatlantic flights. Eventually, the first S-40 was produced in 1931. It helped in pioneering Pan American World Airways mail as well as passenger routes not just around the Caribbean, but to South America as well.
Igor Sikorsky had further success with the creation of the Vought-Sikorsky VS 300 on 14th September 1939. It had its first flight on 24th May 1940. In the ensuing years, his work led to the creation of the R-4, which became the first helicopter to be produced on a mass scale.
He retired in 1957 as the engineering manager of his company, but chose to remain active as a consultant till his death. Throughout his career, he received many honorary doctorates and fellowships as well as medals and awards, including the St Vladimir Cross from Russia, the Elmer A Sperry Award, and the National Defense Award.
Family & Personal Life
Igor Sikorsky was married twice. His first wife was Olga Fyodorovna Simkovitch, whom he later divorced. They had one daughter. He later married Elisabeth Semion in US. They had four sons, named Sergei, Nikolai, Igor Jr. and George.
He was a deeply religious Christian. He also authored two religious and philosophical books.
Igor Sikorsky passed away on 26th October 1972, in his home in Easton, Connecticut. He was buried in Saint John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cemetery situated in Nichols Avenue in Stratford.
Six years before his death, he had been inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame.
In 1987, around fifteen years after his death, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame as well as the Junior Achievement US Business Hall of Fame.
The Kiev International Airport was renamed as Igor Sikorsky Kyiv International Airport Zhuliany in March 2018.