Igor Sikorsky assembled his first helicopters while still a student in his native Kyiv

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In the autobiography “The Story of the Winged-S“, Igor Sikorsky recalled: “I had several hobbies. For a time I was making electrical batteries and also finally succeeded in producing a small electric motor. Time and time again I tried to make flying models. When I was about twelve years old I succeeded in making one of a helicopter, rubber-powered, which could rise in the air… I began assembling the various ideas which I had collected on this subject for several years. A flying machine rising directly from the ground by the action of a lifting propeller was most appealing to my imagination. Several years before I had succeeded in building a large and substantially heavy model, with two propellers of about thirty inches in diameter, that could rise in the air a few feet under its own power. Frequently, during these years, my thoughts returned to various types of helicopters, and so during this summer vacation in 1908, I began in the room of a small hotel in Germany my first steady work in aeronautics. Only at a much later period was I able to realize how helpful had been my former training, achieved while I was experimenting, or even playing, with various mechanisms, building models, and so forth. I had already gained the knowledge that an inventor’s idea is worth almost nothing unless supported by facts and figures. In order to collect at least some figures and make a preliminary check of the twin screw helicopter which I had in mind at that time, I quickly produced in my room a few very rough devices which included a four foot air propeller, actuated by a heavy weight, and arranged in such a way that it was possible to measure the lifting force and the power required to drive it. The first results were encouraging. I could obtain a lifting force of more than eighty pounds per horse-power. I made a series of tests, and soon realized that such high figures could not be obtained on a full-size machine, because it would require lifting screws of enormous size. I was convinced, however, that a practical helicopter could be produced even on the basis of the engines that were available at that time…

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During December of 1908, a very important change took place in my plans. My elder sister, Olga, became interested in my work and offered me enough money to purchase an engine and other parts necessary for the construction of my helicopter. While I was over¬ joyed, I realized the seriousness of the decision ahead of me. A large sum of money would be spent, my studies would be retarded and criticism would be invited; but with all these drawbacks, the right decision was clear to me and I began making preparations to go to Paris in order to see the flying machines then in existence, to purchase a motor and some other parts and start the construction of my own flying machine. To visit Paris appeared desirable, because, with the exception of the Wright brothers, most of the other important aeroplanes were in or near Paris at that time…

Within a week after my arrival in Paris, I visited Captain Ferber, who was one of the outstanding pioneers of early aviation. He was following the glider movement, after the example of another out¬ standing man, Otto Lilienthal. Captain Ferber was enthusiastically devoted to practically all branches of the new art. He started by working with gliders and continued with designing and piloting a plane of his own type. He made numerous tests, developed re¬ search methods, participated in early theoretical work in aerodynamics, and was already the author of some books on aviation. I spent a most interesting hour discussing problems with Captain Ferber. Do not waste your time on a helicopter,” he advised me again and again, kindly but firmly. “ The aeroplane will be far more valuable.” [To Be Continued]

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< Monuments to Igor Sikorsky in Kyiv

PART 2. Story of Sikorsky’s First Trial Helicopter >

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