March 30: Helicopter Pioneer Igor Sikorsky Arrives in United States

One of Connecticut’s greatest immigrant success stories began today in 1919 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, 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 part of Ukraine, but then a part of Russia), Sikorsky studied engineering at Paris, St. Petersburg, and Kiev. He quickly became known as an innovative designer of fixed-wing aircraft. His true passion, however, was creating 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 Sikorsky uncomfortable about continuing his calling in his home country. He fled Russia months after the Bolshevik Red Guards’ October Revolution in 1917, and after short stays in England and France, the engineer arrived in the United States on March 30, 1919. 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  amphibious, multi-engine “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 with only one main rotor and one tail rotor to take off, land, and maneuver. In 1939, he finally achieved his life-long goal: he flew the world’s first workable, practical helicopter – the Vought-Sikorsky VS-300 – on a test flight at  Stratford. Many decades later, the Sikorsky Aircraft corporation remains headquartered at Stratford, on the banks of the Housatonic River. 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 American success story got off the ground, 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

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