Sikorsky Bolshoi Baltisky of 1913, well before the present-day company was founded (uncredited photo)
Story by Ken Kula, photos are by Ken Kula unless othersise noted
Igor Sikorsky was a Russian-American aviation pioneer. Born in 1889 in Kiev (then of the Russian Empire), he began an education in engineering at a young age. Between 1908 and 1914, he studied and began production of airplanes. By the beginning of World War I, Sikorsky’s aircraft plant in Russia produced bomber aircraft through to the time of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Igor had experimented in vertical flight as well, and made his first flight attempts with vertical flight in 1909. His first designs were too heavy for the engines available to him, so his S-1 and S-2 designs never flew. After the Russian Civil War and the First World War ended, he fled his homeland and immigrated to the United States in 1919.
Sikorsky S-43 amphibian at EAA Oshkosh
On March 5, 1923, the Sikorsky Aero Engineering Corporation was founded on Long Island, New York near Roosevelt Field. The company focused on land and sea planes, and found success in various models like the S-38 amphibian. After Sikorsky became a naturalized U. S. citizen in 1928, the company built a plant in Stratford Connecticut, across Long Island Sound. In 1929, this factory opened, and soon became part of the United Aircraft and Transport Corporation.
R-4B U.S. Air Force photo 060807-F-1234P-005
By the mid-1930s, Sikorsky was designing and building the Pan Am Clipper flying boats. Igor Sikorsky was still designing helicopters too, and in 1935 was granted a patent on a design. On September 14, 1939, Sikorsky piloted his first practical design, the VS-300, for its first flight. More flights followed and experience was gained. Strangely enough, on May 14, 1940 (after these first helicopter flights), Igor was granted the first State of Connecticut Helicopter License. By 1942, the first mass-produced helicopter model, the R-4, entered delivery to the US Army Air Forces. These were mainly used for rescue and liaison purposes. Thus began a long line of military helicopter designs that span through today.
Between the end of World War II and the start of the Korean War, Sikorsky improved their helicopter designs and produced the R-5 and R-6. The H-52 was the first Sikorsky mount to have all-metal rotors, and was used extensively by the US Coast Guard. Helicopters were credited with many lives saved during the Korean War due to the rapid withdrawal of personnel wounded in combat, to hospitals.
Between the Korean War and the Vietnam War, transport helicopters grew in size as technology improved. The H-19 Chickasaw and H-34 Choctaw transports were adopted by the US and foreign armed forces, the H-34 was used as an anti-submarine craft by the US Navy too.
Sikorsky/US Coast Guard HH-3F
By the Viet Nam War years, the US Army’s Sikorsky’s CH-54 Tarhe heavy lift helicopter and the Navy’s SH-3 Sea King were routinely making the evening newsreels. The US Air Force used a SH-2 version known as the CH-3/HH-3 Jolly Green Giant that undertook long-range rescue missions of military pilots shot down far from their home bases. The S-61/H-3 variants were widely exported.
Sikorsky/US Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion transport
The US Navy and Marines began using the Sikorsky CH-53 heavy lift helicopter late in the war; the Sea Stallion first flew in 1964 and production would run through 1978. It would be modified into a minesweeping variant too.
Igor Sikorsky died in Easton, Connecticut in 1972, at age 83. He was buried in Stratford, Connecticut, the home town of his first large manufacturing plant.
Sikorsky HH-60M Blackhawk
After the Viet Nam War ended, Sikorsky’s UTTAS entry for the Army’s programmed retirement on the Bell UH-1 “Huey” won the competition in 1974. This led to the UH-60 Blackhawk, the SH-60 Seahawk and various S-70 variants, which are still being produced today.
In 1998, the Sikorsky S-92 was developed, this was an improvement of the Blackhawk design. This will become the future “Marine 1” helicopter in the US’s Presidential fleet of air aircraft.
CH-53K – U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Molly Hampton
In 2018, the Sikorsky CH-53K Super Stallion became the next US Marines heavy lift helicopter. Deliveries of the first two aircraft was completed in December, 2022. Sikorsky had made an experiments compound helicopter known as the X-2, which flew in 2008 to 2011, to verify characteristics of a tandem rotor design which would be included in the US Army’s S-97 Raider design.
On the civilian side of things, civilian versions of military helicopters were widely accepted throughout the world. The S-55 and S-58 series were piston powered and revolutionized commuter airlines in New York City and Los Angeles, to name just two. The turbine S-61 also made an impact this way.
Sikorsky S-76 Spirit
Sikorsky’s S-76 Spirit first flew in 1977 and ushered in a new standard of civil helicopter comfort and capability. Faster than many light aircraft, it could carry a dozen or more passengers. Later, the S-92 was adapted for civil use too. Both of these helicopters found work as shuttles to offshore oil rig operations for workers and staff.
Sikorsky/Coulson Firewatch version of the S-76
Erickson Air Crane S-64. Erickson is developing new composite rotor blades for the Helitanker aerial firefighter.
Aerial firefighting work was an additional duty for Sikorsky helicopters… aftermarket modifications into Evergreen’s Skycrane firefighters and Coulson’s Firewatch command and control aircraft are in use today. Five Firehawks are used by the Los Angeles County Fire Department too.
Sikorsky/PZL Meilec S-70i, manufactured in Poland
From beginnings in Russia, to a new start on Long Island and the Connecticut shoreline in Stratford, Sikorsky Aircraft has come a long way, with many innovative designs. As a United Technologies company, it acquired Schweitzer Aircraft Company in 2004, and PZL Mielec’s aircraft plane in Poland in 2007. In 2015, Sikorsky was purchased by Lockheed Martin, and is still part of that parent company today.
Here’s a small selection of Sikorsky-developed helicopter photos: