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alec de seversky

Alexander Procofieff de Seversky

[duh suh-ver-skee]

Alexander Nikolaievich Prokofiev de Seversky (also Prokofiev-Seversky or DeSeversky), (June 7, 1894August 24, 1974) was a Russian-American aviation pioneer, inventor, and influential advocate of strategic air power.


Of noble Russian parentage, Seversky was born in Tiflis. He served as a Russian naval aviator in World War I, lost a leg in combat, and continued to fly, shooting down six German aircraft. In 1917 he was in the U.S. as a member of the naval aviation mission and decided to stay. He worked as a test pilot and became an assistant to air power advocate General Billy Mitchell, aiding him in his push to prove airpower's ability to sink battleships. Seversky applied for and received the first patent for air-to-air refueling in 1921.

He was awarded the Order of St. George (4th Class); Order of St. Vladimir (4th Class); Order of St. Stanislaus (2nd & 3rd Class); Order of St. Anne (2nd; 3rd; and 4th class).

Seversky married New Orleans socialite and pilot Evelyn Oliphant (c1895-1967) in 1923; the two settled in New York City. In 1927, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

He founded the Seversky Aircraft Corporation in 1931, but despite landing several government contracts the company was never able to turn a profit under his management; the Board of Directors voted him out and reorganized as the Republic Aviation Company, which was successful and produced many planes, including the famous Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. Republic was acquired by Fairchild in 1965.

Often described as "flamboyant" and a "showman," Seversky was always good at capturing the public eye, and was considered a newsworthy celebrity. In 1942 The New York Times considered it news that "Airplane Designer Rents Apartment: Major Seversky One Of Seven New Tenants in 40 Central Park South."

He was the author of the influential 1942 book, Victory Through Air Power, which Disney adapted into a motion picture. Seversky argued for the immediate development of long-range bombers, specifically intercontinental bombers capable of directly striking Germany and Japan from the U.S. without refueling. He urged the shift of manufacturing resources away from traditional land- and sea-based armaments and air-support aircraft and toward these bombers. He argued that existing U.S. strategy was futile and could not achieve victory, due to the disparity between the long supply lines needed by U.S. forces and the excellent interior communications within Germany and Japan. No matter how many machines and planes the U.S. threw at the Axis powers, they could withstand the assault by shrinking their defensive perimeter and concentrating their power. Seversky argued that direct bomber attacks from U.S.-based aircraft were the only way of administering a knockout blow. He acknowledged that shifting priorities to strategic air would reduce the strength of traditional forces, but argued that this would require only a temporary yielding of ground.

He was one of a number of strategic air advocates whose vision was realized in the 1946 creation of the Strategic Air Command and the development of aircraft such as the Convair B-36 and B-47 Stratojet. Seversky continued to publicize his ideas for innovative aircraft and weaponry, notably the 1964 Ionocraft which was to be a single-man aircraft powered by the ionic wind from a high-voltage discharge. A laboratory demonstration was acknowledged to require 90 watts to lift a two ounce (60 g) model, and no man-carrying version was ever built.

He was a 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.

He died in 1974, and was buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.


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