Nikolay Ilyich Kamov. September 1 (14), 1902 – November 24, 1973. Soviet aircraft designer, creator of the Ka helicopters, doctor of technical sciences, Hero of Socialist Labor, winner of the USSR State Prize. The author of the word vertolyot [helikopter].


Life and Work:

1. The word vertolyot [helicopter] is much younger than the vehicle itself. At first, the foreign word gelikopter [helicopter] was used. And vertolyot was coined not by a linguist or a poet, but by the designer of these very helicopters, Nikolay Ilyich Kamov.


2. Nikolay Kamov was born on September 14, 1902 in Irkutsk. Surprisingly, this Siberian city on the Angara gave Russia and the world several outstanding helicopter designers: besides Kamov, Mikhail Mil, and Igor Erlikh were born there as well.


3. Kamov’s father, Ilya Mikhailovich, taught Russian literature, while Nikolay was interested in exact sciences and technology. He graduated from the Irkutsk Commercial School with a gold medal. In the certificate, Kamov’s mathematical abilities were praised highly.


4. Khariton Slavorossov, a Russian pilot, a sergeant of French aviation, who was awarded two French orders for aerial feats during World War I was Nikolay Kamov’s fellow student at Tomsk Technological Institute. Apparently, Kamov became interested in aeronautics under his influence.


5. Nikolay Kamov wanted to become a pilot, but it was not possible due to an injury to his hand, received at birth.


6. After graduating from the Institute of Technology – Kamov was its youngest student and graduate – Nikolay Ilyich moved to Moscow. He entered the Junkers concession factory as a simple metalworker – he wanted to gain practical knowledge and study the technology of creating aircraft in detail.


7. In 1928, Kamov read in a magazine about the flight of the Spaniard Juan de la Cierva on an autogyro of his own design from Paris to London. And Kamov decided to build an autogyro himself – a flying machine that has a propeller that rotates not from the engine, but from the incoming air flow.


8. Together with Nikolay Skrzhinsky, Kamov created the first Soviet autogyro, Krasny Inzhener [Red Engeneer] KASKR-1. And after it – KASKR-2. The country’s leadership liked this autogyro, and at the age of 29, Kamov became the head of the design team at the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute (TsAGI).


9. In 1934, a two-seat multipurpose autogyro A-7 was built based on Kamov’s project. A-7 was used during World War II.


10. The more perfect vehicles the Kamov group produced, the clearer their head understood that autogyros had no future. To achieve a vertical takeoff of the aircraft, designing a helicopter was required.


11. However, at first there was no thought of helicopters, because there was no such word. The word vertolyot, which Nikolay Ilyich contributed to the Russian language, combined two meanings: the vert part of the compound word can be interpreted as abbreviations from both “vertically” and “rotate.” Indeed, the helicopter can fly vertically and really rotates.


12. Kamov later recalled, “In Greek, “autogyro” means “self-rotating.” In Russian, it sounds similar to some kind of “automotive grease,” and it is not quite correct from the technical point of view either. So, I came up with a new name – vertolyot, something that rotates and flies... However, in the late 1920s, the name did not take root. It gained new life in the early 1950s and started to designate helicopters. The word “helicopter” is derived from the Greek words “helikos” – “screw’ and “pteros” – “wing.” So, it’s something like vintokryl [rotary-wing]. The physical meaning is accurate, but the word is hard to pronounce. Vertolyot has a clear meaning and sounds quite Russian.


13. The experimental design bureau OKB-2 headed by Nikolay Ilyich Kamov was established in autumn of 1948. Later, it was renamed Ukhtomsky Helicopter Plant, and after the chief designer’s death, the plant received his name.


14. Under the leadership of Nikolay Ilyich, six rotary-wing vehicles were created. Kamov named his first helicopter, Ka-8, in honor of his native city. Irkutyanin [Irkutsk resident] made its first flight in 1947 and was an experimental aicraft.


15. Released in the 1960s, Ka-25 – the first Soviet anti-submarine helicopter, as well as the first Soviet combat helicopter, which was originally designed for combat use, was in service around the world until the early 2000s.


16. The Ka-26 multipurpose helicopter can be called the most recognizable vehicle in the Kamov helicopter family created during his lifetime. Yuri Nikulin’s character in the comedy movie Grandads-Robbers flew over the city on Ka-26. And the film A Dog Walked Along the Piano features Ka-26 as almost its main character.


17. The world-famous Ka-50 “Black Shark” and Ka-52 “Alligator” were designed after Nikolay Ilyich’s death, but using his ideas and designs.