By Carl Bobrow
The work done by Igor Sikorsky in Russia between 1909-1917 is some of the most important in the annals of aviation development. During this period of time he designed, built and flew no less than twenty aircraft and as many variants.
Interestingly, the first area of aviation that Igor Sikorsky endeavored in was vertical flight, though his initial efforts in this area proved unsuccessful. Since there was very little known on the subject he was forced to design and build by intuition and rudimentary theories. After a lack of success with his first two helicopters he turned to the design and construction of airplanes, only to return successfully to helicopters some twenty five years later.
In April 1910, Sikorsky along with two other Russian designers, F.I. Bylinkin and V.V. Iordan, built a wooden biplane with a two cylinder 15 h.p. Anzani engine. Although it did not fly, since it was underpowered, it taxied and was the direct predecessor to the BIS No.2 which did fly in June of the same year. This original design, powered by a three cylinder 25 h.p. Anzani engine, was the third airplane of domestic design to fly in Russia. In November 1910, Igor Sikorsky started the long lineage of the 'S' series aircraft with the construction of the S-3. Equipped with a 35 h.p. Anzani engine the S-3 made a number of successful flights. This aircraft was soon followed by the S-4 biplane which was powered by a 50 h.p. air cooled Anzani engine. After an engine failure, which could have proved fatal for a less experienced pilot, Sikorsky recognized the necessity of utilizing a more reliable power plant. Incorporating the German built Argus engines, which were water cooled, Sikorsky constructed the S-5 in April of 1911. This was a very successful design and was capable of sustained flights up to an hour. It is interesting to note that Igor Sikorsky obtained his pilot’s license flying the S-5 as well as establishing four Russian records, for altitude (500 m/1,640 ft), distance (85 km/52.8 miles), speed (125 kmh/ 77.7mph) and duration (52 min.). One of the best examples of his early aircraft designs can be seen in the S-6 biplane. This original arrangement was tested in a wind tunnel to determine drag and other aerodynamic qualities. As a result its development proceeded quickly and was finished in three months. He made use of an aerodynamically clean airframe sporting a streamlined fuel tank as well as an aluminum radiator for the 100 h.p. Argus engine. Shortly after the S-6's first test flight Igor Sikorsky established a multiple world record for Russia when he took along three passengers and attained a speed of 111 kmh/69 mph. The award winning S-6A, which was a further development of his already successful S-6, proved even more successful and in March 1912, with four passengers, he attained a speed record of 106 kmh/65.9mph.
As a result of his many successes he was asked to join the Russo-Baltic Wagon Works (R-BVZ) as chief aircraft designer. The R-BVZ manufactured trains, airplanes, engines, and automobiles, and it was run by M.V. Shidlovskiy, who had insight into the importance of aviation's future. The engineering and technical staff at the R-BVZ was expanded by Sikorsky who brought many of them along with him from Kiev. This provided under one roof a wealth of knowledge and experience. The first airplane built by Sikorsky and his staff at the R-BVZ was the S-6B which was a modified version of the S-6A. It was developed specifically to enter the international military competition in July 1912, held by the Russian government. The S-6B featured a reinforced undercarriage as well as a gear for starting the 100 h.p. Argus engine from the cockpit, attaining a speed of 113 kmh/70.2mph with a load of 327 kg/720.9 lbs. Competing against other Russian designs, as well as foreign entries, the S-6B won first prize. This achievement not only set the stage financially and technically for the construction of the world's first multi-engine enclosed cabin aircraft which has come to be known as the 'Grand' but also established Igor Sikorsky as a world class aircraft designer.