Alexander Prokofiev-Seversky – creator of the most important fighters of World War II
Alexander Prokofiev-Seversky was born in Tiflis (now – Tbilisi, Georgi, then - Russian Empire) in the family of aristocratic heritage, a line of warriors serving the Tsars.
His father, Nikolai Prokofiev, was a famous singer, director and the owner of a theater, and his stage name – Seversky – later became part of his son's name.
Alexander studied at the Naval cadet corps., and at the same time flying as a hobby - thanks to the fact that his father was one of very first Russians to own a private aircraft. By the start of the Great War, he received the rank of a naval pilot.
During one of combat flights an explosion of his own bomb tore away his foot, but he returned to the ranks, learning to walk with an artificial leg!
Due to the wound, he was commissioned to Saint Petersburg, where he oversaw the construction and design of hydroplanes for the Baltic fleet. Soon he would become a designer, creating his first own plane and even test-flying it personally, against all regulations and orders!
A scandal ensued, with Tsar Nikolai II himself becoming involved. The Tsar called Alexander for a private meeting, whose result was His Highness' decree, giving the pilot full freedom to fly...
During the war, Prokofiev-Seversky was awarded multiple awards both as a fighter pilot, and as a designer, but in 1918 was forced to emigrate to the U.S., where, having met General Billy Mitchell (future founding father of the American Air Force), became a consultant at the War ministry. In 1927 he obtained the citizenship, and the rank of a major (of reserve) to go with it.
Seversky married New Orleans socialite Evelyn Olliphant in 1923. She was also well known as a pilot. The two settled in New York City (at 40 Central Park South). In 1927, Seversky became a naturalized citizen of the United States. In 1967, Mrs. de Seversky died at her country home at Asharoken Beach, Northport, L.I. at the age of 60.
Seversky founded his own company «Seversky Aero Corp», which went bankrupt during the Great Depression; the inventor, however, did not give up, and in 1931 founded a new company – Seversky Aircraft Corp., which went on to create the most numerous and one of the most important fighters of World War II – the P-47 Thunderbolt. The company, however, never had commercial success, and in 1939 Seversky, in his absence and without his knowledge, was deposed from his position, and the company was renamed to Republic Aviation Company.
Seversky gained wide publicity thanks to his book "Victory Through Air Power" (1942), which became a bestseller. Even more, Walt Disney made a propaganda movie based on the book, with the author as the narrator - Seversky had shown himself as a great orator and master of PR.
For his contribution to the victory, in 1945 he was awarded the Merit Medal - the highest award for civilians in America.
Until the very death, Prokofiev-Seversky remained a US Airforce consultant and the lector of the Aviation University, preparing future commanders of air squadrons. He toured the country extensively, giving lectures and taking part in conferences.
He was a founder and trustee of the New York Institute of Technology, which in 1972 acquired an elegant mansion originally built by Alfred I. du Pont. It was renamed "The DeSeversky Center" in his honor, and is a popular venue for weddings.
Seversky died in his New York home at the age of 80, keeping his military rank and fame of an outstanding aircraft designer.
U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission
Internation Helicopter Safety Team website