Who doesn't love an airplane with giraffe spots? And, not only an airplane, but, a boat that can land on the water!! This is the Spirit of Africa, a plane owned by Martin and Osa Johnson mentioned in an earlier blog. The plane is a Sikorsky S-39, a single engine plane. The Johnsons owned a second, a Sikorsky S-38, Osa's Ark, with zebra stripes and two engines. These planes were the first ever to fly over Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa's tallest peak.
The Johnsons' feat would have been impossible without the designer of these two planes, Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky. Sikorsky was a Russian aviation pioneer born in 1889. He immigrated to the United States in 1919 and in 1923 founded the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation. He developed the first of Pan American's ocean-conquering flying boats in the 1930's. In 1939 he designed and flew the Vought-Sikorsky VS-300, the first viable American helicopter, which pioneered the rotor configuration used by most helicopters today. Sikorsky modified the design into the Sikorsky R-4, which became the world's first mass produced helicopter in 1942.
Homeschooled by his mother, Sikorsky developed a great love for art, especially in the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci, and the stories of Jules Verne. Through his father he acquired his interest in the natural sciences, which led to experimentation with model flying machines. By age 12, he had created a rubber band powered helicopter.
Sikorsky was a deeply religious Russian Orthodox Christian. He authored two religious and philosophical books, The Message of the Lord's Prayer and The Invisible Encounter. He once summarized his beliefs writing, "Our concerns sink into insignificance when compared with the eternal value of human personality – a potential child of God which is destined to triumph over life, pain, and death. No one can take this sublime meaning of life away from us, and this is the one thing that matters."
He achieved many great things during his lifetime, far too many to include in this small blog. But, his invention of the flying boat changed how and where people traveled, opening up even deepest darkest Africa. A world of cultures, peoples and wildlife was revealed like never before.
Sikorsky died at his home in Easton, Connecticut on October 26, 1972.