The helicopter industry in our ‘back yard’

Comdr. Frank A. Erickson and Igor Sikorsky in Sikorsky Helicopter HNS-1 C.G. in 1944.
Comdr. Frank A. Erickson and Igor Sikorsky in Sikorsky Helicopter HNS-1 C.G. in 1944. — Wikimedia Commons photo

Wilton resident Andrew Driver will discuss the history of the helicopter industry during the third installment of this year’s Yankee Innovators scholarly lecture series, presented by the Wilton Library and Wilton Historical Society, on Sunday, Feb. 25.

Driver is the senior manager of marketing intelligence at Connecticut-based American aircraft manufacturer Sikorsky Aircraft.

Andrew Driver
Andrew Driver

“I am responsible for tracking what is going on in the industry, staying abreast of advances in technologies, as well as knowing what our competitors are doing, including product and technology introductions,” he explained.

During his lecture, Leading the Helicopter Industry into the 21st Century, at the Wilton Historical Society, Driver said, he will be provide “a short history of some influences on Igor Sikorsky’s early years and why he was so passionate about the helicopter.”

“I will share information about the young engineer’s early successes in Russia and discuss how he came to emigrate from Kiev to the Nutmeg State,” said Driver.

He said he will include history of Sikorsky’s early fixed wing designs and “discuss some of the challenges he faced in founding Sikorsky Aircraft and in finally working through early challenges to invent the helicopter.”

Lecture attendees will get to see some early helicopter designs that Driver said “paved the way for [Sikorsky] to change the company from the pre-eminent flying boat producer into a helicopter manufacturer.”

“I will provide a summary of significant helicopter models the company has produced,” said Driver, “and then move into current-day products and trends in the industry.”

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He will end his presentation with “a look into the future and discuss how Sikorsky is leading the paradigm shift the helicopter industry is currently experiencing as a result of technology advances,” said Driver, with a particular focus on the company’s “technology focus areas of speed, intelligence and autonomy.”

Driver said the helicopter industry is facing “many of the same technology advances that the auto industry is experiencing.”

“The auto industry is rapidly driving a dramatic change in their products to incorporate new technology like driver notification systems, autonomous capabilities like self-parking, and driver override features like automatic braking to avoid accidents,” he said.

“Similar needs exist for helicopters to make them safer and protect their occupants from accidents caused by human error.”

The more a pilot can let the aircraft control the mechanics of flying itself, Driver said, “the more she can focus on the environment around her to ensure the mission is completed.”

“Smart helicopters that are faster and more efficient allow operators to use these machines for more of the life-saving missions that Igor Sikorsky always intended them for,” he said.

Driver said “mechanical things” have always intrigued him, and he started working at Sikorsky nearly 30 years ago, after graduating from Lehigh University with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.

After spending about half his career on the “execution side of the business” in the engineering department, Driver said, he received his master’s degree from New York University’s Stern School of Business and moved to “the front end of the business.”

“My focus since that shift has been on developing the enterprise strategy and keeping the company as a leader in the industry,” he said.

Igor Sikorsky with a model aircraft.
Igor Sikorsky

From his lecture, Driver said, he hopes people gain “an appreciation for what a true gem and pioneer Igor Sikorsky was” and how the aviation industry was “developing in their own back yard.”

“I hope that the audience realizes just how close they live to an innovative company making tremendous leaps in technology that is changing the helicopter industry today,” he said.

The last lecture in this year’s scholarly series will be Faster, Smaller, Greener: How Semiconductor Lithography Enables Innovations All Around Us, with Chip Mason at the Wilton Historical Society on March 18.

Each lecture takes place from 4 to 5:30, with receptions following each talk.

There is no charge, but donations are welcomed. Registration for each lecture is strongly encouraged.

Information and registration: or 203-762-6334.

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