I was born in Berlin, Germany in 1923 of Russian parents who fled Russia due to the Revolution. In 1929, my family emigrated to the United States and my father joined a small Russian group that was building the first Sikorsky flying boats.
I grew up with Sergei Sikorsky, son of Igor Sikorsky, Alex and Ugen Gluhareff, sons of Michael Gluhareff, Chief Engineer; George Buived, son of Michael Buived, Chief of Rotor Head Design for Sikorsky Aircraft. We all watched the Sikorsky flying boats being built and flown and remember the visits of all the famous people like Charles Lindbergh, Rosco Turner, the Johnsons, etc.
In 1939, I was invited onto Anthony Fokker's yacht, the QED. That summer aboard the yacht, I had the opportunity to meet and spend time with famous people like Admiral Byrd, who flew a Fokker tri-motor aircraft over the North Pole. Mr. Fokker was one to motivate me to increase my knowledge in the field of engineering related to aviation.
My aviation career started in 1941 when I soloed. That summer, I was working for a flight service owned by a group of Sikorsky engineers. My instructors were F4U-1 test pilots. We operated from the same field that the VS 300 used during the week.
By my junior year in high school, 1942, I had my second job in aviation working on the flight line on 062U-2's. I was the youngest on the flight line to be authorized in preflighting military aircraft. I graduated from high school in 1943 and started working at Sikorsky Aircraft in the experimental department on the YR-4's and R-6's. This experience, in addition to meeting both Col. Frank Gregory, Project Officer for the Army, and Commander Frank Erickson of the United States Coast Guard, was my first step into the field of military helicopter operations. I was inducted in July, 1943, and soon found myself as a flight engineer on B-24's in Fort Worth, Texas. In November, I was transferred to Eastern Flying Training Command Headquarters at Maxwell Field, Alabama.
On November 1, 1943, I arrived at Maxwell Field and was invited to attend a meeting that I soon learned was the kick-off to the Army's first helicopter operation. The meeting lasted two days. I was questioned about helicopters; their operation, training, etc. because no one at the conference ever heard or saw a helicopter. The conference ended when I was advised that I was the first man to be selected and assigned to a new helicopter pilot training squadron that was to be formed. To my great surprise, I was assigned to Sikorsky Aircraft. On November 15, 1943, five enlisted men and one maintenance officer joined me at Sikorsky Aircraft in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
The picture of the class shows me at right hand-rear. The two men to my right and Sgt. Jim Phelan sitting in front of me, were later assigned to the first overseas project, known as Project 9 Mission Burma. I met Jim Phelan years later, who came from Bridgeport, Connecticut. He told me that the Burma mission was a disaster; they lost all their helicopters due to lack of power. I met Col. Cochran, part of the Burma mission, years later when I was working on a land-based aircraft launching system for the Navy. On December 12, 1943, the late Bill McGuire and myself flew a Y-4R helicopter. This picture was taken by someone at Seaside Park that is located next to Sikorsky Aircraft's plant in Bridgeport. Twenty minutes after this picture was taken we ran out of fuel and made an auto rotation landing in the Sikorsky parking lot. I often wondered if this was the first actual auto rotation landing due to lack of fuel. On December 21, 1943, the late Jack Beighle and myself took off from Bridgeport in 30 mile head winds for Andrews Air Force Base, Washington, D.C. and on to Wright Patterson with a R-4B. Col. Frank Gregory was waiting for us at Andrews where there was an aircraft display for our Allied Nations military representatives. We arrived in Washington that afternoon. I only had my flight jacket and toilet bag with a toothbrush. We did not dare carry any other weight. This trip was unforgettable. First, we were parked a couple of hundred feet from the first B-29 that I had ever seen. This large aircraft was surrounded by military police. Next, to my great surprise, came a delegation of Soviet military personnel speaking in Russian. I could not resist letting them know that I could understand Russian, so I addressed them in my Czar's Russian that indicated my heritage and caught them by surprise. They all left roe standing next to the R-4B helicopter without saying a word.
The following day, we left for Pittsburgh, PA., our next stop, for refueling and layover. We encountered snow squalls and reached Pittsburgh by nightfall. The next day, we completed our 400-mile mission by delivering the R-4B helicopter, with its new uprated 200-horsepower Warner engine to Colonel Frank Gregory. The return trip to Bridgeport by train proved to be more challenging since I was traveling out of uniform in a leather flight jacket. It was Christmas Eve and I had to explain why I was traveling dressed as I was at every train stop. My only written orders were a hand-written note from Jack Berghle stating we were to deliver a R4 helicopter to Dayton, Ohio. January, 1944, I met Maj. John Sanduski who became our commanding officer. John Sanduski and I attended the 12th Annual American Helicopter Forum, I joined the Helicopter Society and became its 139th member that year. At this meeting I met Arthur Young who was working with small model helicopters. In March, Arthur Young sent me a complete model rotor head. With Sanduski's support, I started to build a sort of link-trainer for our pilot training school to demonstrate control principles. This project peaked my interest in developing a free flight gas engine powered model. I was interested in being the first to build one. Years later, I did get a model to fly. In March, 1944, we set up the first helicopter pilot training squadron at Freeman Field, Seymour, Indiana. In December, 1944, we were transferred to Chanute Field. In January. 1945, a group of us were sent to Nash Kelvinator. Detroit, Michigan, to bring back the first R-6A helicopters that were being built under licensing from Sikorsky Aircraft. In February. 1945, I was assigned to a new helicopter squadron called the 8th Emergency Rescue Squadron. We were the first of a special group to be formed specifically for rescue work. Not only did we have helicopters, we also had two C-47's modified for fly-by pick up with a special door in the fuselage floor, two camera-equipped B-25's and four Stinson L-5 aircraft, our own medical staff, all in addition to our own ground transportation unit with cooks and supplies. We were a mobile self-sufficient unit that was part of a build-up for the invasion of Japan. Newton Flint was the project officer. William Sheppard was our C.O.
This complete organization was held in top-secrecy and we were given a special hanger to disassemble four R-6 helicopters and load them onto two C-54 aircraft. April 20, 1945, we flew out of Chanute Field, Illinois, destination: Kunming. China. We traveled to Miami, Florida, Brazil, South America, across the Atlantic to Africa, Egypt, Aden. Arabia, Calcutta. India, Rangoon, Burma and finally, crossed the Hump into China. The Hump made the helicopter an essential aircraft. We operated at a 5,000 ft. altitude. Due to lower climate temperatures and a larger engine than the 200 HP R-4, we could fly with a twenty foot takeoff. To make the R-6A's more operational, we replaced the fuel tank with two L-5 wing tanks mounted externally on each side of the fuselage. We removed all radio equipment and cowling to gain performance. This still made every flight at our base operational altitude of 5.000 feet an experience. Among the difficulties we encountered, many were engine-related in origin. The 245 horsepower Franklin with its mags under the engine that was vertically mounted was always subjected to oil. The continuous full throttle operation resulted in a short life span and we were forced to replace engines within 100 hours of operation.
Apri1 27, 1945, we landed at Kumming, China and were assigned our first rescue mission. Within 24 hours, working around the clock, we assembled all our helicopters and became operational as a rescue squadron of the 14th Air Force. Our first mission was 80 miles from base. The rescue was witnessed by a correspondent from Harper's Magazine. The events were written and published.
Very little credit has been given to the R-6 helicopter even though 219 R-6 helicopters were delivered to the U.S. Army alone. The R-6 was a military landmark effort as a trainer, rescue aircraft, aerial camera platform; a great step in the evolution of rotary wing aircraft used today.
October, 1945, the war over. we left China and all our equipment. February, 1946, back at Sikorsky Aircraft out of the military and my first job was running a 150 hour endurance test on a R-5 helicopter. In the fall of 1946. I enrolled at Rhode Island State College, now URI. 1950 Lycoming Division, Avco Corporation. I conpleted the era of piston engines in my first position as Test Engineer on 1820 and 1300 helicopter engines that powered the H-19 (S-58) and H-21.
It was evident that the helicopter industry needed a power plant for its own. The specific requirements of ruggedness, light weight and ease of maintenance for this new power plant were recognized by Dr. Franz, already a leader in the aviation power plant field. In 1951, I became associated with him at Lycoming in positions associated with research and development and engineering operations. This engineering group under Dr. Franz's high degree of technical skill was responsible for bringing through to production status the first turbine engine designed specifically for helicopters - the Lycoming T53. The T53 is known throughout the helicopter industry and powered the H43B, Bell UH-1. Huey - the U.S. Amy workhorse as well as many other aircraft.
Like aviation itself, the evolution of helicopters and the power plants required to lift payloads have made
incredible strides since 1943 with the YR-4 and its 185 horsepower Warner engine.
This detailed description represents milestones in the state of the art of Rotary Wing Aircraft.
I am proud that I was a part of it all.
I started a new career in the bio-medical engineering field in 1982, in development of medical devices for United States
Surgical Corporation of Norwalk. Connecticut — another challenging growth field!