March 30: Helicopter Pioneer Igor Sikorsky Arrives in United States


One of Connecticut’s greatest immigrant success stories began on this day when Russian-born Igor Sikorsky first arrived on American shores.   While Sikorsky is best known as the inventor of the world’s first practical helicopter and the founder of the Sikorsky Aircraft manufacturing company headquartered in Stratford, Connecticut, he first made a name for himself as a designer of fixed-wing aircraft in the early 20th century.  Born in the city of Kiev in 1889 (now a part of Ukraine, but then a part of Russia), Sikorsky studied engineering at Paris, St. Petersburg, and Kiev and quickly made a name for himself as an innovative designer of fixed-wing aircraft, although his true passion was the pursuit of a craft capable of vertical flight.

1937 ad for the Sikorsky Clipper Flying Boat, one of the fixed-wing aircraft produced in Connecticut before Sikorsky’s company began producing helicopters exclusively.

Sikorsky was remarkably successful in Russia — even earning recognition from Tsar Nicolas II for designing a four-engine plane used by the Russian Army in World War I — but increasing political unrest made the inventor wary about continuing his career in his home country.  Sikorsky fled Russia after the October Revolution, and after short stays in England and France, the engineer arrived in the United States on March 30, 1919.  In order to pursue his experiments with vertical-aircraft in his new homeland, Sikorsky founded the Sikorsky Aero Engineering Corporation in 1923, which produced passenger airliners and “flying boats” throughout the 1920s and 1930s.  In 1929, Sikorsky moved his company to Stratford, Connecticut, where he redoubled his efforts to design a working vertical-lift aircraft, or helicopter.

Unlike other designers, Sikorsky pursued the idea of a helicopter that could operate using only one main rotor and one tail rotor to take off, land, and maneuver in the air.  In 1939, he finally accomplished his lifelong dream of designing the world’s first workable, practical helicopter — the Vought-Sikorsky VS-300 — which he flew himself for the first time in 1939.  Many decades later, the Sikorsky Aircraft corporation remains headquartered on the banks of the Housatonic River in Stratford.  As the world’s leading producer of military and commercial helicopters, with models used extensively in all five branches of the U.S. military, it remains one of Connecticut’s most influential and historically significant businesses.  An incredible success story got its start, today in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Igor Sikorsky,” Igor I. Sikorsky Historical Archives

Nancy S. Giges, “Igor Sikorsky: Aviation Pioneer,” American Society of Mechanical Engineers