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On Igor’s 125th Birthday, A Look Back at His Early Years

May 25, 2014
A well-known aviation pioneer once said to a young Igor Sikorsky, “Do not waste your time on a helicopter. The airplane will be far more valuable.”

Obviously, Igor did not take that advice. Rather, he went right out and bought a small aircraft engine and began building his first aircraft – a helicopter.

We honor that innovative spirit as we mark the 125th anniversary of Igor Sikorsky’s birth.

Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky was born on May 25, 1889, in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, at that time a part of the Russian Empire. His father was a prominent doctor and psychiatrist, Professor Ivan A. Sikorsky. His mother, Zinaida was a medical school graduate who gave up her career to care for the family.

Igor was the youngest of five children. His siblings were Lydia, Olga, Elena and his brother Sergei. Sergei died during World War I while serving in the Russian Navy aboard a cruiser.


Family photograph from 1904. 15-year-old Igor Sikorsky is shown in his naval academy dress uniform(right). In the picture from left to right are Igor’s sisters, Olga, Lydia, Elena, and his brother,Sergei.

Books about Sikorsky describe his family life growing up as one that fostered his imagination and curiosity. Specifically, his mother introduced him to the idea of a flying machine.

Zinaida told her son about Leonardo da Vinci and showed Igor the Italian artist’s design for a machine that could rise straight up in the air.

In “The Sikorsky Legacy”, author Sergei Sikorsky (2007), writes about his father’s youth, “Even as a child, he was determined to fly someday.”

The Sikorsky Legacy tells of a young Igor reading the science fiction works of Jules Verne and becoming captivated by the description of a helicopter-like machine in Robur the Conqueror.

Igor’s dream of aviation began in 1900 when he was just 11 years old. A detailed account of the dream is quoted from Chapter 1 of his autobiography, The Story of the Winged-S.

“I saw myself walking along a narrow, luxuriously decorated passageway. On both sides were walnut doors, similar to the state rooms of a steamer…Walking slowly, I felt a slight vibration under my feet and was not surprised to the find the feeling was different from that experienced on a steamer or on a railroad train. I took this for granted because in my dream I knew that I was on board a large flying ship in the air.”

One year later at age 12, Igor Sikorsky built a rubber-band powered helicopter. Author Sergei Sikorsky writes in The Sikorsky Legacy, “To his delight, it could rise several feet into the air before it would settle back to the ground as the rubber bands unwound.”


Igor Sikorsky at age 13 with a school experiment.

Author Frank Delear, in his book Igor Sikorsky-Three Careers in Aviation (1976), recounts that young Igor became interested in chemistry and began experimenting with chemicals, test tubes and Bunsen burners. Delear writes the family maid refused to clean his room, “fearing she would be poisoned by the evil smelling concoctions it contained.”

In 1903, 14 year-old Igor entered the Imperial Naval Academy at St Petersburg. After three years he left to pursue his interest in engineering. In 1907, he enrolled in the Polytechnic Institute of Kiev.

Delear writes that Igor was on a summer vacation with his father in Germany when for the first time he read a detailed account of the successful flights of the Wright Brothers first flights and an eye witness account of a recent demonstration in France.

“He decided that his entrance into aviation would be by the way of the helicopter…He knew his own dream was to build an aircraft that could hover over one spot, that could rise vertically and land vertically, and fly in any direction chosen by the pilot.”

Igor Sikorsky was just 19 years old when he made the decision to take the path leading him to be an aviation pioneer.

At 83, he passed away in his sleep on October 26, 1972. His son, Sergei, wrote in the Sikorsky Legacy, “His life and his legacy continue to be a source of inspiration for all those who carry on his work."

We are all part of that legacy, and remain committed to achieving success. Our recent transformation strengthens our ability to work together toward a common vision, assuring our competitive edge and continued customer satisfaction.

The name Sikorsky is a brand synonymous with innovation and aviation, ideas that remain steadfast today. Igor defied expectations and silenced the critics that day in 1939 when he climbed into the VS-300 and achieved vertical lift.

We all carry on that tradition, that innovative spirit each and every day as we hold true to our mission, “We pioneer flight solutions that bring people home everywhere…every time™”

For more on the history of Igor Sikorsky and the Company visit the Archives web site www.sikorskyarchives.com.

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