Mr. Helicopter: how Ukraine takes care of the brilliant aircraft designer Sikorskyi's legacy
What helicopters are now being produced by the Sikorsky corporation in the USA, what will happen to Sikorskyi’s House in Kyiv, and why the aircraft designer had to leave his homeland and emigrate to America
Today, June 6, according to the old calendar, is the birthday of the talented inventor, Ihor Sikorskyi. Today, his name is still widely known, not only thanks to the aircraft industry but, unfortunately, also because of the series of scandals unfolding around the remaining Sikorskyi's house in Kyiv. Rubryka explains everything that is known today.
Ok, Google. Who's Sikorskyi?
The renowned aircraft designer was born in Kyiv in 1889 and had lived in the capital until he was 20 years old, not considering a half-year absence to study at the Duvignau de Lanneau school in Paris. Since childhood, Ihor Sikorskyi was fascinated by the idea of flying; he designed batteries, small engines, and even assembled a small model of a helicopter that could take off.
In 1907, Sikorskyi entered the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, and a year later, inspired by the first airplanes of the Wright brothers and reports of Count Zeppelin's airships, Ihor began to design his own aeronautical ship. Over the next two years, he built the world's first helicopter models, which he designed in the family estate's hotel, where he spent his childhood and adolescence. These helicopters were never destined to take off due to design flaws. Ihor Sikorskyi temporarily abandoned the idea of helicopters and took up airplanes: in 1910, he first hit the Kyiv skies on an airplane of his own design. On the airplane of his C-6 design, he passed the exam for the rank of pilot-aviator, set four records: altitude, flight range, and duration, as well as speed over the ground. A year later, Ihor Sikorskyi moved to St. Petersburg, where he assembled the planes that participated in the First World War, "Russian Knight" and "Illia Muromets," on which he even made a 13-hour flight from St. Petersburg to Kyiv.
Later, in 1918, fearing execution by the Bolsheviks, Sikorskyi went abroad. The threat really existed: Sikorskyi was secretly warned by well-wishers. First, he went to London, then to Paris, and later explaining that airplanes were needed in the United States, he sailed overseas, where he settled, got a family, created a corporation that functions to this day, and raised five children, one of whom would still take part in our story.
So the Motherland lost the great designer. The only memory that the city still keeps about him is the house that still stands in Kyiv at Yaroslaviv Val 15-b. However, the history of this house is sad. For many years, its walls have been empty, the windows have long been broken, and its only visitors are cold winds, rain, and snow. Rubryka decided to figure out on our own why the city doesn't take care of the building's fate, since it could become a monument and acquire the national treasure status.
House of Sikorskyi: unsuccessful castling of owners who change nothing
The three-story house was erected in Podil in 1903. The Sikorskyi family lived in seven rooms on the first floor, and the rest of the premises were occupied by the reception rooms of the psychotherapist Ivan Sikorskyi, the head of the family and one of the founders of child psychology and psychopathology. After Ihor's father's death, and the family's departure from the Russian Empire, the house was no longer in private ownership and was transferred to the military department. During World War II, the building housed the headquarters and command post of the Kyiv Air Defense Corps. In 2000, the Sikorskyi House was leased for 49 years to the "Sikorsky Museum of Aeronautics and Aviation History" charitable foundation but despite the fund's obligations to restore the building, no repairs were made, and the house continued to collapse. In 2016, by the decision of the Kyiv Economic Court of Appeal, Sikorskyi's house was returned to the ownership of the Ministry of Defense.
As Rubryka was told in the Main Department of Property and Resources in response to an official inquiry about the house's current status, the building is on the balance sheet of the Hotel Kozatskyi state institution, owned by the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, and is a historical monument with the "national importance" status.
In 2017, they already tried to transfer the house to the communal property of the city's territorial community for free: there's even a corresponding decision of the Kyiv City Council, and in 2019, following the general council of Hotel Kozatskyi management, representatives of the Ministry of Defense and the Kyiv Council, the house was transferred to the direct ownership of the Ministry of Defense.
However, such castling in the change of power didn't give any result. According to the Ministry of Defense, the transfer of the house to the city is impossible, since the Pechersk District Court imposed an arrest on the building and alienated it as an object of property of Hotel Kozatskyi, and prohibited any other registration actions.
The Ministry of Defense explains: the Hotel Kozatskyi enterprise has repeatedly applied to the Pechersk Court with petitions to lift the arrest, the last of which was filed on May 13, but the court didn't issue a corresponding decision.
"Sikorskyi's House staying under arrest doesn't make it possible to transfer the house to communal ownership, and, therefore, to carry out measures to restore it," the Ministry said in the response.
What is the city council trying to do?
However, the Kyiv City Council, apparently, is not aware of the litigation involving the property of the building asset holder. On May 13, the city council appealed to the government to transfer the house to the city's municipal property.
"Sikorskyi's House is on the balance sheet of the Ministry of Defense. We've been fighting for several years so that it can be handed over to the city so that we can restore it. We could've created a museum of an outstanding aircraft designer there. But the premises are being destroyed and several government structures in the capital are not helping to preserve it. And it's wrong and unfair," the Kyiv mayor Vitalii Klychko said.
"For more than 20 years the state hasn't been able to bring the Sikorskyi's house into proper condition. If it continues, we run the risk of being left without a monument altogether. Back in 2017, the city council confirmed its willingness to accept the house into communal ownership to preserve the building. However, the Government is delaying this process. And my task, as the person responsible for the protection of the capital's cultural heritage, is to achieve the transfer of the Sikorskyi's house to the city balance and do everything to preserve it," the deputy head of the Kyiv City State Administration Volodymyr Prokopov says about the Sikorskyi's House.
Apparently, the Kyiv City State Administration is trying to shift the responsibility for the crumbling cultural monument to the Government, but in no way stipulates the arrest on the house.
Why was the arrest imposed on Sikorskyi's House?
The order passed by the Pechersk Court on the Sikorskyi's House and other objects belonging to the Hotel Kozatskyi enterprise was made based on a petition by Ivan Diachuk, an investigator for especially important cases of the investigation department of the military prosecutor's office of the Central region of Ukraine.
In his motion in case 757/795/18-k, Diachuk described a "scheme" to remove buildings from state ownership. The fact is that back in 2000, the Hotel Kozatskyi officials entered into a trilateral agreement on joint investment activities with Carlton Trading LTD and LLC Carlton Trading Ukraine.
According to the agreement, part of the real estate ownership of each of its participants is proportional to the number of contributions from each of them. Hotel Kozatskyi didn't pay its part of the fee, so every year its part became less and less. Although this party to the agreement didn't fulfill its obligations, the other parties didn't present any claims. In 2010, an additional agreement to this contract was concluded between Hotel Kozatskyi, Carlton Trading LTD, and Carlton Trading Ukraine, which determined that all disputes were resolved by arbitration in accordance with the Arbitration Rules of the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, and, as you might guess, the Arbitration Court ruled that 41.33% of the property was transferred to the common ownership of both Carlton companies.
In 2014, Carlton received the decision of the Kyiv Shevchenko District Court, entering it into force. According to it, permission was granted to implement the above decision of the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce. However, they couldn't fulfill this decision, since two years earlier, the decision of the Supreme Economic Court of Ukraine invalidated the agreement on joint investment activities with the participation of a foreign investor.
Thus, the investigator had sufficient grounds to file a motion for the seizure of Hotel Kozatskyi's property in order to avoid its removal from state property, which was sustained by the Pechersk Court in 2018. Little is known about Carlton Trading Ukraine, except that, together with another company, it and Ukrnafta are jointly developing the Prilutskyi oil and gas district in the Chernihiv region, as well as the fact that 40 more companies in Ukraine are registered to the company's founder, Vadym Vaisapir.
Who else was going to restore the Sikorskyi's House?
In February, at Parliament's plenary session, the People's Deputy from the Servant of the People party, Arsenii Pushkarenko, announced that the United States was ready to finance the restoration of the aircraft designer's estate if the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine decided to start reconstruction, as the news agency Interfax reports:
"Today, both the Sikorsky corporation whose capitalization is billions and the United States are ready to financially support the implementation of this project," said Pushkarenko who raises the topic of the fate of the house since 2011.
After almost six months, the situation hasn't changed for reasons already known to us. However, Rubryka became interested in this statement and decided to clarify the information. Here Ihor Sikorskyi's son, Serhii Sikorskyi, who now lives in Arizona, USA, and is a consultant to Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, enters our story. Back in 2018, Rubryka spoke with him, and when asked if the family would like to participate in restoring the house, Serhii replied:
"We, the Sikorskyi family, are very interested in the condition of the estate. But we can only observe it from the outside. Because the question of this monument's fate should be decided by the city of Kyiv and the government."
However, based on the deputy's statement, something has changed in 3 years, and we turned to the aircraft designer's son again with the hope that we'll be able to record a new interview about new restoration plans, to which we received a response:
"The house is now in ruins, sitting on very valuable land.
There's no need for an interview as my (our) opinion hasn't changed.
The Sikorskyi family is not interested in this complicated case.
Kyiv will decide the fate of the house and the land where it stands," the letter says.
Fire in Sikorskyi's House and a new court decision
On May 14, 2021, the next day after another request from the City Council to transfer the house to the city's balance sheet, a fire broke out in Sikorskyi's House. This happened late in the evening; at 22:26 the fire was noticed, and at 23:18 the fire was already contained.
As reported on the "Typova Kyivshchyna" Facebook page, "as a result of the fire, the walls and ceiling of the basement were smoked," which means that the building wasn't badly damaged.
On May 27, the Kyiv District Administrative Court sustained the claim of the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine. By its decision, the court ordered the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine to restore the monument of national importance "The house in which the outstanding aircraft designer I. Sikorskyi lived", and also removed the arrest that was imposed on this house.
Founded in 1925 by Ihor Sikorskyi, Sikorsky Aircraft is still operational and is currently owned by Lockheed Martin. The company, called the Sikorsky Aero Engineering Corporation, began production of aircraft in Roosevelt, New York, and four years after its founding, moved to Stratford, Connecticut. Until the end of the 1930s, the company specialized only in aircraft, but after Sikorskyi began work on the development of helicopters, the Sikorsky R-4, the second helicopter developed by Sikorskyi, became the world's first single-rotor fully controlled helicopter.
Now the world-famous holding is the world leader in the production of helicopters for various purposes. The old helicopter models are being improved, and the prototypes of the new improved models are more reminiscent of the aircraft from the films of the future than the usual helicopters. An example would be the Sikorsky-Boeing Defiant-X, which is used by the US military.
The company has made great strides forward and is now on the verge of making helicopter flights completely autonomous. ALIAS and MATRIX technologies are capable of autonomous operation from takeoff to landing.
This technology complex is present in the optionally piloted Sikorsky S-70 Black Hawk vehicle, which is used by the US Army, and in the upgraded Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA) S-76B helicopter.
"With DARPA's In-Flight Crew Automation System (ALIAS) and backed by Sikorsky's MATRIX™ technology, pilots can focus on saving lives or transporting cargo instead of the mechanics required for modern flight," says the Breaking Defense article.
For many years, Ihor Sikorskyi's name was hushed up: an emigrant and a favorite of the royal family, who left his homeland and built a huge corporation abroad, is not the best idol, according to the Soviet authorities. In popular literature, even the authorship of "Illia Muromets" was attributed to some "group of young Russo-Balt designers." The ice began to melt only during the thaw period, at the end of the eighties: articles appeared in mass publications where Ihor Sikorskyi's activities were objectively evaluated, books about him were published.
In 1998, a memorial plaque was opened in KPI in honor of the famous designer. The State Polytechnic Museum of Ukraine is now open there, and in 2016, the National Technical University was named after Ihor Sikorskyi. On the university's territory, there's a monument to the outstanding designer, on which the sculptor Mykola Oleinyk beat out Ihor Sikorskyi's words, said by him in his declining years: "I take off my hat to the alma mater, who prepared me for conquering the sky."