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The Outpost
A r m y ‘s F irs t H e lic o p t e r f r o m R u s s ia n , W it h L o v e
By Lt. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, U.S. Army retired
he next time you fly aboard a U.S. Army helicopter, thank
a Communist. To be specific, thank a Bolshevik although
these days, of course, those guys are a little thin on the ground,
Vladimir Putin notwithstanding. But 100 years ago, the news
was full of Bolsheviks. Led by Vladimir Lenin, these bold in­
surgents seized power in old St. Petersburg, known at the time
as Petrograd and soon enough to be rebranded as Leningrad
in tribute to the revolution’s mastermind. The storming of the
czar’s venerable W inter Palace took Russia out of the Great
War, established the world’s first communist state, and up­
ended the entire society.
A lot of people—the lucky ones—fled the horror show that
followed. One of them was a bright young engineer named
Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky. Sikorsky hailed from a prominent
family in Kiev, Ukraine. His father, Ivan, had been both a
psychiatrist and a university professor. His mother, Maria,
was a physician, although she ceased her practice when Igor
was born in 1889. She home-schooled her son, who com­
bined a love of mathematics with interests in art and litera­
ture, including the intricate sketchbooks of Leonardo da
U.S. Coast Guard
T
Vinci and the French science fiction novels of Jules Verne.
Precocious Igor entered the Imperial Russian Naval Acad­
emy at age 14. He did superbly there and seemed destined for
life at sea as a naval officer. But Igor became captivated by a
new sensation. He wanted to fly, to study flight, and to design
his own air machines. W ith his parents’ blessing and financial
support, he left the naval academy and went to Paris. He
wanted to see the latest inventions.
While he was in the famous City of Lights in 1906-07,
Sikorsky learned about the new hydrogen-filled dirigible air­
ships and rickety aeroplanes. The smart money backed Ferdi­
nand von Zeppelin’s airships, big, stately, long-duration craft
based on more than a century of proven ballooning experience.
In 1906, only a few crackpots thought much of the flimsy,
putt-putting powered gliders pioneered across the ocean by
those two taciturn American tinkerers Orville and W ilbur
Wright. You could barely keep those canvas and wood con­
traptions up in the air more than 10 minutes. The wise heads
in Paris advised Sikorsky: Go with the zeppelins, son.
But Sikorsky made up his own mind. A slow, clumsy, Wind­
so r Sikorsky w ith
one
o f his helicopters
Ja n u a ry 2017 ■
ARMY
57
Library of Congress
drifted powered balloon looked like a loser, even more so when
you factored in the propensity of a dirigible’s onboard, lift-induc­
ing hydrogen to explode at random moments. Sikorsky, like most
of the real forward thinkers, realized the W right brothers were
indeed the right brothers. A t age 18, Sikorsky headed home to
Russia, enrolled at Kiev Polytechnic Institute, and breezed
through his final year of school. The faculty didn’t know much
about those newfangled aeroplane things. But Sikorsky did.
W ith his degree in hand and again bankrolled by his family,
Sikorsky returned to Paris in 1908-09. H e looked at the latest
foreign aircraft designs and studied motors, control devices,
airframes and wing forms. H e returned to Russia the next year
with dozens of thick notebooks. In M ay 1909, he doodled up
a scheme inspired by one o f da Vinci’s drawings. Sikorsky
called it a helkoptere (spiral wing), a term he’d heard in Paris.
After assembling a test model, he could not get it to fly. The
crude, ramshackle technologies of the era just weren’t up to it.
Leaving aside that interesting, if impossible, initial idea,
Sikorsky turned to standard biplane aircraft. H e numbered
each design in sequence, with an “S” to note that he had de­
signed each one. His S -l didn’t fly; its engine was too weak.
The S-2 made it only a few feet about the Russian grasslands.
But the S-S variant worked so well that in 1911, Sikorsky flew
it to earn his pilot certification, Russian Imperial Aero Club
License No. 64. T he following year’s S-6 model drew the at­
tention of the Russian army. His S-22 Ilya Muromets, named
for a famous medieval hero, became Russia’s standard fourengine bomber in 1914. Early in the Great W ar, no other coun­
try could match it.
Igor Sikorsky recorded his progress w ith helicopters in this 1930Journal entry.
58
ARM Y ■
J a n u a ry 2017
Sikorsky received the Order of St. Vladimir for the innova­
tive S-22 bomber. H e continued to refine the airplane and
served in the Russian aviation industry throughout the war.
But when the hapless Czar Nicholas II abdicated and the piti­
less Bolsheviks took charge, w ell-to-do men like Sikorsky
were immediately designated “class enemies” and marked for
“liquidation.” T he engineer made it out o f Red Russia one
step ahead o f the vicious secret police.
ith the help o f the French army, Sikorsky made it to
New York City on M arch 30, 1919. H e arrived as many
im m igrants did then— and now— w ithout a penny to his
name, owning only a bit of personal luggage and his wits. He
spoke some English and found work as a schoolteacher. But
his first love remained flight.
T he Roaring ’20s in America are remembered as the golden
age o f aviation, a time o f barnstorming biplane pilots. Fore­
most among them was the daring Capt. Charles Lindbergh,
U.S. Army Air Corps, whose 1927 trans-Atlantic flight en­
thralled the nation and the world. Sikorsky jumped right into
the middle o f that. In 1923, funded by fellow Russian emigre
well-wishers including composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, he es­
tablished his Sikorsky Manufacturing Co. in Roosevelt, N.Y.
Proud o f his new country, determ ined to contribute and
achieve, Sikorsky earned his U.S. citizenship in 1928. By 1929,
just before the stock market crash, Sikorsky relocated his firm to
Stratford, Conn. The company became a division of what’s now
United Technologies Corp. Sikorsky’s team focused on produc­
ing flying boats, and his S-42 amphibian aircraft achieved fame
as the Pan American Clipper. But the man the Bolsheviks
chased out never forgot his 1909 brainstorm, the helicopter.
T he Great Depression hobbled Sikorsky’s company and lim­
ited investment in risky prototypes. Even so, in 1935, Sikorsky
patented what he called a “direct lift aircraft.” Although the
company made its money on flying boats, Sikorsky diverted
some funding to his VS-300 design. Today’s Army aviators
would recognize it in an instant: a forward cockpit, a rotary disc
on a mast, landing skids, and a tail rotor on a boom. A single
engine that was harnessed to clever linkages turned both the
top propeller and the tail rotor. T hat latter concept made it all
work, offsetting the torque of the overhead blades and thus sta­
bilizing the machine. Others talked about it, but Sikorsky did it
first, testing his VS-300 on Sept. 14, 1939. By then, another
world war had begun, although the U.S. had not yet joined the
fight. But that day would come, and Sikorsky knew it. So did
the U.S. Army Air Forces. T heir procurement officers were
quite interested in Sikorsky’s rotary-wing invention.
Once America joined the war in December 1941, Sikorsky
continued work on his helicopter. T he VS-300 featured an
open forward cockpit. Sikorsky enclosed it, rounded it off, and
added a lot o f Plexiglas, thus creating the familiar bulbous
nose common to most of today’s helicopters. H e called the up­
dated version the VS-316. T he Army bought it in 1942 and
renamed it Experimental Rotary Aircraft 4, or XR-4 for short.
By 1943, Sikorsky’s team had cranked out 29 of them. Some
service test YR-4Bs were shipped overseas for the harshest of
final shakedowns— actual combat.
W ith a world war underway, you’d think a helicopter could
W
NA SA Langley Research Center
A Sikorsky YR-4B undergoes testing in Hampton, l/a., in 1945.
be useful. Sikorsky sure thought so, and he argued for wide
adoption of the new aircraft. O f course, few in the U.S. Army
had ever heard of a helicopter. Front-line air and ground com­
manders bogged down in the mountains of Italy or the jungles
of New Guinea might have found a YR-4B pretty handy, had
anyone thought to send a few there. Nobody did.
he only organization at all interested in the YR-4B was
the 1st Air Commando Group, the daredevil special op­
erations flyers immortalized in M ilt Caniffs long-running
comic strip Terry and the Pirates. The Air Commandos pro­
vided lift on the far side of the world as one of the few Amer­
ican contributions to the distant, low-priority China-BurmaIndia Theater. These tough airmen landed British and
American Special Forces in the Japanese-controlled Burmese
wilderness. The Air Commandos sustained those deep-pene­
tration teams using parachute drops and glider landings—bet­
ter than nothing, but also one-way by design. That kind of
thing did nothing to evacuate the wounded. W hat if a flying
machine could go straight down into a jungle clearing and
then come back up? Enter Sikorsky’s YR-4B helicopter.
On April 21, 1944, Tech. Sgt. Ed Hladovcak was forced
down in the heart of enemy country. Hladovcak managed to
get his L -l Vigilant airplane to the ground—good work there,
although it stranded the young tech sergeant and three
wounded soldiers. They needed a way out. Another U.S. liai­
son plane found the wreckage. But there was nowhere to put
down, nothing except a patch of tall grass maybe the size of a
basketball court. No standard aircraft could land there. But
Sikorsky’s YR-4B “egg beater” just might work.
The call went to 2nd Lt. Carter Harman, one of the first
seven U.S. Army aviators ever qualified in a helicopter. He
T
had trained at the Sikorsky plant in Connecticut. Harman had
been waiting for a chance; here it was. His YR-4B lacked ar­
mor and weapons, and it needed extra fuel to reach Hladovcak
and the stricken British. But Harman knew his machine, and
he knew his job. He launched.
It took an hour and a half to get to the spot. His YR-4B
could carry only two people, and he was one of them. So this
rescue took a while. Over two days, Harman made four trips.
Hladovcak, the last man out, clambered into the helicopter as
Japanese riflemen appeared in the tree line. The burdened YR4B struggled to lift. Harman gunned it. Thankfully, Sikorsky
built it tough. Harman flew it that way.
Harman’s successors, riding aboard later-model Sikorsky
helicopters such as the UH-60 Black Hawk—and many other
types, too—saved a lot of lives during World W ar II, Korea,
Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other hot spots around
the world. Brave aviators made it all work. But that first res­
cue, and all of those that followed, reflected the original genius
of a Russian immigrant. Sikorsky might have been the only
good thing to come out of the tragedy of the Russian Revolu­
tion. Fortunately for generations of American soldiers, he gave
his greatest gift to his beloved adopted country.
Lt. Gen. DanielP. Bolger, USA Ret., Ph.D., was the commander of
Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan and
NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan. Previously, he served as
the deputy chief of staff, G-3/5/7, and as the commanding gen­
eral, 1st Cavalry Division/commanding general, Multinational
Division-Baghdad, Operation Iraqi Freedom. He holds a doc­
toratefrom the University o f Chicago and has published a num­
ber of books on military subjects. He is a senior fellow of the
AUSA Institute of Land Warfare.
January 2017 ■ ARMY
59
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Photo
Essay
Collection
Igor Sikorsky:
One Man,
Three Careers
By Rénald Fortier
Curator,
Aviation History,
National Aviation Museum
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© National Aviation Museum 1996
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Photo
Essay
Collection
Table of
Contents
Introduction
. . . . . . . . .1
The Construction of the First
Multiengine Aircraft . . . .2
Pioneer Work on
Transoceanic Flight
Development of the
Helicopter . . . . .
The VS-300 . . . . .
The R-4 . . . . . . .
The R-5/S-51 . . .
The S-55 . . . . . .
The S-61/Sea King
. . . .6
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.10
.10
.13
.15
.17
.20
Conclusion . . . . . . . . .23
Specifications
. . . . . . .24
Canada’s First Certified
Helicopter . . . . . . . . .26
N a t i o n a l Av i a t i o n M u s e u m P h o t o E s s a y C o l l e c t i o n

Igor Sikorsky
1
Introduction
The eventful life of one of the world’s foremost aviation pioneers, also one
of the best known and best loved figures in aviation, was marked by three
successive and distinguished careers.
Igor Sikorsky was best known for:
– the construction of the first multiengine aircraft;
– pioneer work in transoceanic flight; and
– the development of the helicopter.
N a t i o n a l Av i a t i o n M u s e u m P h o t o E s s a y C o l l e c t i o n

Igor Sikorsky
2
The Construction of the First Multiengine Aircraft
Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky was born in Kiev (Russia; now in the Ukraine) on
25 May 1889. As a school boy, he showed great interest in contemporary
science, especially aviation; he was fascinated by the speculations of Jules
Verne and Leonardo da Vinci. Sikorsky actually built and flew several model
airplanes made of bamboo strips with tissue paper covering; he “borrowed”
whalebone stays from his sisters’ corsets in order to make engines for his
model helicopters.
It was during a vacation in Germany with his father that he first heard of the
trendsetting work of the Wright brothers in the United States; he also came in
contact with Count Zeppelin’s work on rigid airships. Sikorsky decided then
and there that his career should be in aviation.
After he returned to Russia, he graduated from the Naval Academy in Tsarist
Russia’s capital city, St Petersburg, a city known for a long time as Leningrad.
He studied engineering in Paris and later, in 1907, entered the Mechanical
Engineering College of the Polytechnical Institute in Kiev. Early in 1909, Sikorsky
went back to Paris, the mecca for all aviation enthusiasts, to learn as much as
possible about the new science. While in Paris, he met many of the great names,
men like Louis Blériot, Henri Farman, and especially Ferdinand Ferber; he
also learned to fly. He returned to Russia with a 25-hp Anzani engine and
started designing helicopters, despite all the advice to the contrary given to
him by French experts.
His first helicopter, built in 1909, did not leave the ground, despite months of
tinkering. The second one, built in 1910, did become airborne but only without
the weight of its nineteen-year-old pilot. Unfortunately, because of an insufficient
knowledge of the principles behind rotary-wing flight, destructive vibrations,
and the insufficient power of the engine, both were failures.
The Sikorsky S-6A
Sikorsky started working on fixed-wing aircraft instead and he did not have
to wait long for success. An early design known as the S-6A was shown at
the 1912 Moscow air show, where it received the highest award; it also won
the first prize in the St Petersburg military competition held in the fall of that
same year.
N a t i o n a l Av i a t i o n M u s e u m P h o t o E s s a y C o l l e c t i o n

Igor Sikorsky
3
The Bolshoi Baltiskiy
With these successes, Sikorsky became the engineering manager of the
aeronautical subsidiary of RBVZ (RussoBaltic Railroad Car Works). The numerous
lives lost due to engine failures gave Sikorsky the idea of making an aircraft
with more than one engine. In September 1912, with RBVZ’s blessing, he
proceeded to build a very large machine, the “Bolshoi Baltiskiy,” or Great
Baltic, with two 100-hp Argus tractor engines. Deemed to be underpowered,
it was re-equipped with two more engines, mounted as pushers. Thus modified,
Sikorsky’s machine became the world’s first multiengine aircraft. This revolutionary
machine had an enclosed cabin with upholstered chairs, a large balcony up
front where those aboard could take a stroll in the fresh air and, for the first
time, there was a washroom in a heavier than-air machine. Many aviation
experts were convinced it wouldn’t work. They assumed that the airplane’s
sheer size and weight would make takeoff impossible, and prevent it from
turning, the enclosed cabin would prevent the pilot from feeling how the aircraft
was doing, and that the loss of one engine would make it uncontrollable.
However, the first flight, on 13 May 1913, was very successful.
Pilot’s Cabin in the Bolshoi Baltiskiy
Sikorsky and Tsar Nicholas II aboard
the Russkiy vityaz.
N a t i o n a l Av i a t i o n M u s e u m P h o t o E s s a y C o l l e c t i o n

Igor Sikorsky
4
Sikorsky and a colleague aboard one
of his giant airplanes.
Model of the Russkiy vityaz
The second aircraft, called “Russkiy vityaz,” or Russian Knight, was designed
soon after by Sikorsky, Lavrov and Mackenzie-Kennedy; it also flew in 1913,
with four 100-hp tractor engines. Unfortunately, it crashed after being hit in
mid-air by an engine that had torn off an escorting aircraft. The experience
Sikorsky gained with the two aircraft was used to design the “Il’ya Muromets,”
a still larger four-engine biplane named after a tenth-century legendary hero.
It had a heated cabin, a compartment in the rear fuselage for eating and
sleeping, a promenade deck on top of the upper fuselage, and a firing platform
in the middle of the fuselage. This aircraft, which first flew in February 1914,
may have been designed for the civilian market but was only used by the military.
Flight testing of the huge machine, with its span of 31 metres, however,
proved that the four 100-hp Argus engines were not powerful enough. It was
re-equipped with two 140-hp engines nearer the fuselage and two 130-hp
engines further away. With these improvements, the giant aircraft set a number
of world records, including most passengers carried (sixteen people and one
dog) and longest time spent in the air (five hours). A flight from St Petersburg
to Kiev in late June took twelve days, with many stops along the way. The
return flight took only ten and a half hours with only one stop between the
two cities. This impressed those at the general headquarters of the Imperial
Army and ten aircraft were ordered for the Imperial Russian Air Service.
These became the first four-engine bombers to go into battle, when the First
World War began in the summer of 1914.
N a t i o n a l Av i a t i o n M u s e u m P h o t o E s s a y C o l l e c t i o n

Igor Sikorsky
5
An Il’ya Muromets
The pilots and crews were recruited from among the test pilots and engineers
of RBVZ, the manufacturer. The performance of the first pair of airplanes was
very disappointing. This led to criticism and requests to suspend production.
Nevertheless, production continued and the EVK (squadron of flying ships) was
created under the command of the former chairman of RBVZ. The first of many
raids by the EVK was launched from its Jablonna base in Poland, in February
1915. The EVK was more than an ordinary bomber squadron; in fact, it was
a completely self-contained unit that did its own testing, training and maintenance.
More government orders soon followed; five basic models of Il’ya Muromets
have been identified: IMB, IMV, IMG1 to G3, IMD, IMYe-1 and Ye-2. There
were many differences between these models such as type of engine, wingspan,
length, armament and bomb load. Inadequate supplies of engines were a
constant problem, which ex …
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