“Sikorsky S-29A”. From the Russian sky to the American sky

This is what it is, the first American plane of Igor Sikorsky

People in history. Not so long ago, “VO” published an article “Wings that we gave America”, which told about Russian aviators who found a second home in the United States and became friends there for the benefit of this country. It told about many people. But, of course, readers of “VO” would be interested to learn about the details of life overseas at least some of them. The most famous of them is, of course, I. I. Sikorsky. Mr. Helicopter, as they called him in America. We will start with him.

Sikorsky near his 1910 helicopter


Sikorsky Igor Ivanovich was born into a family of hereditary Polish nobles who lived in Russia, and his father graduated from Kiev University and became a famous psychiatrist. Even when the future inventor was a child, his mother told him about the rotorcraft of Leonardo da Vinci. Then little Igor dreamed in a dream that he was on board a huge aircraft with luxurious cabins and electric lighting inside. When he told his parents about this, he was told that people had never built such machines and that, most likely, this was impossible. When Igor was three years old, Otto Lilienthal rose into the air, and after him the Wright brothers rose!

Apparatus “Big Baltic”, or “Grand”


Then Igor Sikorsky studied at the naval cadet corps, after which he entered the Kiev Polytechnic Institute. After two years of work experience, he managed to build the first helicopter in the courtyard of his Kiev house, but the power of its engine was not enough to lift it off the ground. The second helicopter was able to rise above the ground, but it was impossible to fly on it, since there were no controls on the device.

Failures did not discourage the young inventor. He switched to airplanes and two months later created the first, albeit non-flying, model of an airplane. Only his fifth airplane, the C-5, turned out to be successful, on which Igor passed the pilot’s exam and set a world speed record! Subsequently, he more than once won competitions on it with foreign airplanes of prestigious brands, including Farman and Nieuport. The most interesting thing is that Sikorsky received his engineering degree without protection! He was credited with his plane !! Under the then bureaucratic order, the case is quite rare and unusual.

Flight preparation


Disappointed with single-engine cars, Igor Sikorsky created the first four-engine airship “Grand”, which made an impressive flight over St. Petersburg in May 1913 and pretty much frightened the population of the Russian capital. Emperor Nicholas II himself then visited the aviator, took a picture with him in the cockpit of his airplane, which had been renamed “Russian Knight” by that time, and presented its creator with a gold watch.

Sikorsky at the helm of the “Russian Knight”


Then Sikorsky, on the basis of this aircraft, created an even more impressive four-engine aircraft “Ilya Muromets”, named after the epic Russian hero, who during the Great War showed himself as a heavy bomber, and of more than eighty aircraft of this type, German pilots managed to shoot down only one!

After the Bolshevik revolution, the talents of Igor Sikorsky were not needed in Russia. The director of the plant where the designer worked was torn to pieces by drunken soldiers, and the planes were dismantled for firewood …

Aviators Sikorsky, Genner and Kaulbars aboard the “Russian Knight” aircraft, 1913


Commissar M. Lurie declared the aviation industry unnecessary to the proletariat, as if it were perfumery, and Igor Sikorsky with his little daughter in his arms crossed the border into Finland, and then moved to France. However, no one was waiting for him in Europe. The war was over, and no one needed combat airplanes, as well as passenger airplanes. Then Sikorsky went to the States. There he first worked as a teacher of mathematics and drawing.

Sikorsky on the front platform of the first copy of “Ilya Muromets”, winter 1913-1914.


The designer’s dream of his own company came true in March 1923, when he, together with a small group of the same Russian émigré aircraft builders, like himself, created a workshop. Moreover, it was arranged on the farm of a former Russian pilot – in a barn! The roof was leaking, and scrap metal was often used as materials. But it was in this shed that a twin-engine transport airplane was built, just the kind that America needed, where all kinds of private transportation were normal!

Many business people showed interest in the new firm and began to contact Sikorsky for possible cooperation. New York newspapers published articles about him, which further fueled interest in the Russian aircraft manufacturer, and in time this just coincided with the expected completion of the construction of his airplane. But then the cold came, the money came to an end, so the workers of Sikorsky now had to work practically for free, only for food. But then the famous composer Rachmaninov read an article about him and, having learned about his difficulties, made a broad gesture: he bought shares for five thousand dollars at once and agreed to become the vice president of the company – solely for advertising purposes!

Training 25-pound bomb. Such could be dropped by “Ilya Muromets”


Sikorsky himself constantly emphasized in all interviews that he was very lucky with people, that people with him are just gold, they will pod any flea on you, like Leskov’s Lefty.

His first assistant was Mikhail Evgenievich Glukharev, an aerodynamic scientist, an excellent specialist. Sikorsky’s brother, Sergei, was engaged in business work. That is, even though there are still few of us, but every jack of all trades works for ten.

Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky, photograph by Karl Bulla, 1914


In an interview, he said that when he was building the Vityaz and Ilya Muromets, he thought about making a flight to the North Pole on one of them, but he had to equip the Muromets with devices for hanging 25-pound bombs. There is no getting away from this …

S-29A at the airport. Then people often came to airfields just to just look at the planes.


By April, the Sikorsky S-29A was ready. For $ 500, they managed to get two engines decommissioned from military property and install them on an airplane. On May 3, the plane was taken out of the hangar, with the last remaining money it was refueled with gasoline and oil, and Sikorsky himself personally performed several runs across the field on it. The next day, it was decided to take the plane into the air. But his first flight ended in a serious accident. The aircraft manufacturers literally crammed into the cockpit, due to which the power of the motors was not enough, and the pilot, fearing to crash into the wires during the landing approach, was forced to sharply throttle right in front of the power line. The plane immediately jumped from this, but then lost speed, did not sit down, but literally fell onto the golf course. The chassis withstood this blow, but one of the wheels landed in a ditch, and the car skapoted, receiving serious damage, although none of its passengers were injured.

S-29A. “There is no prosperity without publicity”


In September 1924, the first successful flight of the S-29A aircraft, repaired after an accident, finally took place. And immediately after it was followed by the first order: the plane delivered two pianos from Rooseveltfield to Washington for $ 500. The American press, greedy for everything new and unusual, immediately reported this, and orders for the transportation of a wide variety of goods poured out like a bucket.

Sikorsky at the S-29A aircraft


Only in 1926, he sold it to a certain Tourner, and he, having operated it for another two years, resold the already well-worn car to Howard Hughes, a well-known aircraft manufacturer and film producer. He decided to use this aircraft in the filming of the war “Hell’s Angels” as a German bomber “Gotha”, which was to be shot down by American aces from Lafayette Squadron.

S-29A, disguised as a Gotha bomber


During the shooting, the car was loaded with fuel, the pilots set it on fire at the required height, fixed the steering wheel, and they themselves jumped out of it on parachutes. As a result, the plane began to fall downward in a spiral, and, all engulfed in flames, fell to the ground in a spectacular way, where it exploded in a fountain of fire!

In 1924, Sikorsky was awarded the Sylvanus Albert Reed Prize by the Institute of Aviation Sciences in New York, which also brought him excellent publicity.

In his lectures and a book written in the same years, Sikorsky predicted a brilliant future for aviation:

“Aircraft will fly over vast areas and will be reliable, durable and safe. People will quickly get used to this mode of travel and will buy tickets or book a cabin on an airship as easily as buying a ticket at a train station. These aircrafts will be built like an airplane. Controlled balloons are unlikely to become widespread. “

In his opinion, these should be airplanes with a pressurized cockpit, flying at an altitude of 20-30 versts, where “the rarefaction of the air will allow airplanes of this type to develop enormous speeds, completely unacceptable in other conditions. It can be expected that devices of this type will do 400-500 and even more versts per hour. “

Inside the passenger cabin S-29A


Like many other emigrants, the designer hoped that the “mess” in Russia would not last for decades. No wonder he named his first aircraft, built in the USA, S-29A, where the letter “A” meant “American”. Apparently, he secretly thought that maybe soon he would be able to continue the creation of already Russian cars. But Igor Ivanovich was not destined to return to his homeland …

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