pioneer, Alexander Nikolaivich Prokofiev de Seversky, a Russian émigré to
the United States after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, founded Seversky
Aircraft Corporation in 1931. Seversky was born June 7, 1894, in Triflis,
Russia. His father was one of the first Russian aviators to own a plane,
and at age 14, when Alexander entered the Imperial Russian Naval Academy,
he already knew how to fly. He graduated in 1914 with an aeronautical
engineering degree and was serving at sea as a lieutenant in the Imperial
Navy of Russia when World War I began. He requested a transfer to aviation
and was reassigned to the Baltic Fleet as a naval combat pilot in the
summer of 1915.
On his first
combat mission, he attacked a German destroyer but was shot down before he
could drop his bombs. When his plane crashed, the bombs exploded, badly
wounding Seversky and killing his observer. Doctors amputated Seversky's
leg below the knee. Recovering from his wounds, but sporting a new wooden
leg, he was deemed unfit for front line duty. To prove his superiors
wrong, he made a spectacular but unauthorized flight at an air show and
was promptly arrested. The Czar intervened on his behalf and in July 1916,
Seversky returned to combat duty. He downed his first enemy plane three
days later and quickly scored three more victories. In all, he flew 57
sorties and shot down 13 German aircraft to become Russia's top naval ace.
In early 1918,
the new Bolshevik government sent Seversky to the United States to serve
as assistant naval attaché at the Russian Embassy and to study aircraft
design and manufacturing. When the Russian revolution began, he decided
that it was too dangerous for him to return to Russia and made the United
States his home. He became a U.S. citizen in 1927.
He soon went
to work for the War Department as an aeronautical engineer and test pilot.
In 1921, he became a special consultant and an advisor in the famous
"airplanes versus warships" bombing tests of Billy Mitchell. Over the next
eight years, Seversky applied for at least 360 patents. Seversky was asked
to develop a bombsight "of greatest accuracy." Working with Elmer Sperry
of Sperry Gyroscope Company, he developed the first
gyroscopically stabilized bombsight in 1923. He also had a hand in
formed the Seversky Aero Corporation in 1923 to produce aircraft parts and
instruments but not complete airplanes. The small company did not survive
the stock market crash of 1929 but in the meantime, Seversky had
established a reputation as a skilled pilot. He attracted the backing of
millionaire Paul Moore and other investors, and in February 1931, formed
the new Seversky Aircraft Corporation on Long Island, New York, to produce
military aircraft. He was elected president and quickly surrounded himself
with expatriate Russian engineers including the man who would ultimately
head the design team for the Republic P-47 of World War II fame, Alexander
company's first plane, the SEV-3, first flew in 1933. It was an all-metal,
three-seat monoplane amphibian, with a low-mounted
cantilever wing. It had innovative landing gear that operated
hydraulically and adjusted to water or land operations. The SEV-3 set a
world speed record for
piston-engine amphibious airplanes on September 15, 1935, that remains
unbroken, flying at a speed just over 230 miles per hour. A distinguishing
feature of the SEV-3 was its thin but broad semi-elliptical wing, which
would appear on the later P-47 Thunderbolt.
Seversky BT-8 was the Army's first monoplane basic trainer. It was also
the first monoplane designed specifically for use as a basic trainer
rather than being converted from some other role.
The P-35, the
first modern fighter, appeared in 1935, and 77 of these planes, developed
from the SEV-1XP, were delivered in 1937. Featuring retractable landing
gear, which only minimally reduced drag, and an enclosed cockpit, the last
of the group was an improved aircraft designated XP-41. This plane, a
prototype of the Republic P-47, featured a
turbocharger that increased the engine's performance. It first flew in
March 1939, shortly before the company board ousted Seversky because of
mounting losses. The company was reorganized as
Republic Aviation Corporation on October 13, 1939, with W. Wallace
Kellett, company vice president, becoming the new president.
turned to writing and advising after his departure from the company that
he founded. In 1942 he wrote the book Victory Through Air Power,
which was made into a movie and became a best seller. The book alerted the
Nation to the need for better air power. After the war, he was awarded the
Medal of Merit by President Harry Truman. He also served as a special
consultant to the chiefs of staff of the U.S. Air Force and received the
Exceptional Service Medal in 1969.
In 1952, he
formed Seversky Electroatom Corporation, a company focused on protecting
the United States from nuclear attack and on extracting radioactive
particles from the air.
on August 24, 1974.