The SEV-3 amphibian as it appeared at Wright Field in the summer of 1934.
Alexander de Seversky standing before an SEV-3, 1934.
The P-35 was the first single-seat, all-metal pursuit plane with retractable landing gear and enclosed cockpit to go into regular service with the U.S. Army Air Corps.
The first group of Seversky P-35 airplanes were accepted by the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1937.
The XP-41 was a modification of the last P-35 built.
Alexander de Seversky and Seversky Aircraft
Aviation 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 inventing in-flight refueling.
Seversky 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 Kartveli.
The new 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.
The 1934 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.
Seversky 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.
Seversky died on August 24, 1974.
References and Further Reading:
Donald, David. The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1999.
Maloney, Edward T. Sever the Sky: Evolution of Seversky Aircraft. Corona del Mar, Cal: Planes of Fame, 1979.
Pattillo, Donald M. Pushing the Envelope - The American Aircraft Industry. Ann Arbor, Mich.: The University of Michigan Press, 1998.
"Alexander de Seversky." http://www.theaerodrome.com/aces/russia/seversky.html
"Seversky P-35." http://www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/research/p35.htm
"Seversky Aircraft & Republic Aviation: P-47 Thunderbolt: Aviation Darwinism." The Cradle of Aviation Series, The Cradle of Aviation Museum. http://home.att.net/~historyzone/Seversky-Republic.html.