On a visit to a hospital, Russian-born Alexander de Seversky encountered a patient who had recently lost a leg. De Seversky, who had received a wooden leg following a combat injury, attempted to console the young man. “The loss of a leg is not so great a calamity,” he said. “If you get hit on a wooden leg, it doesn’t hurt a bit. Try it.” With a mighty swing of his walking stick, the patient forcefully struck de Seversky’s leg. “You see,” de Seversky said. “If you hit an ordinary man like that, he’d be in bed for five days.” De Seversky then hobbled out of sight and fell to the ground in terrible pain. The patient had apparently hit his good leg.
- In 1921, he became special consultant and an advisor in the famous “Airplanes Versus Warships” bombing test.
- Invented the in-flight refueling method and developed the first gyroscopically stabilized bombsight.
- Founded the Seversky Aircraft Corporation and developed an advanced design amphibian in which he set world speed records in 1933-35.
- Developed an all metal monoplane which set speed records in the 1933-39 National Air Races and a transcontinental record in 1938.
- Developed the P-35 fighter and its design led to the Thunderbolt, one of the great fighters used in World War II.
- In 1942, he wrote a book Victory Through Air Power. It was made into a movie, and ultimately alerted the allies to the need for air power.
Born June 7th, 1894 in Tbilisi, Georgia (part of the Russian Empire), de Seversky earned his commission as a lieutenant in the Imperial Navy of Russia in 1915. On his first combat mission he lost his right leg. A year later he was back in the air, flying 57 sorties and shooting down 13 German aircraft to become Russia’s top Naval Ace.
In 1917, following the vicious communist Russian Revolution, de Seversky came to the United States and offered his services to the U.S. War Department, making outstanding contributions to the production of the SE-5 fighter.
In 1921 de Seversky met General Billy Mitchell. They worked together on the famed tests of supremacy of airplanes over battleships. Later the government de Seversky was asked to develop a bombsight “of greatest accuracy”. Working with Dr. Elmer Sperry of Sperry Gyroscope Co. a sight was developed in 1923. It was immediately acclaimed the world’s best.
In 1930 de Seversky again made an important contribution to his new country’s air efforts when he developed the P-43 all metal fighter. Many of the new concepts of that plane are universally accepted construction principles for today’s modern aircraft. Capable of speeds of over 300 m.p.h., the new aircraft would give long range and high altitude protection to U.S. bombers which, until then, flew without fighter protection.
The outbreak of World War II found the U.S. air arsenal still pitifully neglected. To bring the magnitude of the problem to public attention, de Seversky wrote Victory Through Airpower. The book became a best seller and awoke people to the need for better airpower. For his efforts he was awarded the Medal of Merit by President Harry Truman.
In 1946 de Seversky went to the atomic test sight at the Bikini Islands.
By now he had become a recognized expert in the areas of airpower and defense. De Seversky formed Seversky Electroatom Corp. in 1952. The company’s efforts and products focused on defense against nuclear attack, and extraction of radioactive particles from the air. Research in this area led to the discovery of the Ionacraft, a heavier-than-air craft which derived its lift and propulsion from ionic emissions.
Major de Seversky continued to work for his country. He strived to help the U.S. maintain air superiority as a deterrent against nuclear attack while fighting an ecological battle to restore purity to the earth’s environment.
Alexander de Seversky died on August 24th, 1974.
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