The buildings at 550 Main Street have been known by many names over the years. It saw Igor Sikorsky develop his seaplane business which help fund his history changing invention the helicopter. It saw World War Two on the horizon and the property expanded to build the US Navy’s best fighter, the F4U Corsair. It saw Lycoming, Avco, Textron, Allied Signal and finally the US Army create military engines by the truckload at the Stratford Army Engine Plant. Now, shuttered since 1998, 550 Main Street waits for to be developed for a new generation.
1929 – 1939
Sikorsky Aircraft Company
In 1929 Sikorsky Manufacturing Company moved to Stratford, Connecticut. The new Sikorsky factory was designed by W. A. Bary & N. O. Smith-Petersen in co-operation with Fletcher-Thompson, Architects, of Bridgeport, Connecticut. It became a part of United Aircraft and Transport Corporation (now United Technologies Corporation) in July of that year. Igor I. Sikorsky would go on to develop a thriving seaplane business.
The first Sikorsky aircraft, an S-38 flying boat powered by Pratt and Whitney Wasp engines, left the Stratford plant in November 1929. Sikorsky’s friendship with Charles Lindbergh, an adviser with Pan American Airlines, led to the development of a four-engine amphibian known as the S-40, “Flying Clipper.” Sikorsky also developed the first true transoceanic airplane for Pan American, the S-42, it was designed in 1932, and production began at the Stratford plant in 1933. With this aircraft, Pan American began flights to Argentina, Hawaii, and New Zealand, and by August 1934 the Sikorsky S-42 airplane had set world records for load, distance and miles flown.
1939 – 1942
Vought – Sikorsky
Soon after Chance Vought’s death in 1930, the company moved its operations to East Hartford, Connecticut. Under the Air Mail Act of 1934, United Aircraft and Transportation Corp. was forced by law to divide its businesses, resulting in Boeing Aircraft, United Airlines, and the United Aircraft Corp, of which Vought was a part. In 1939 United Aircraft moved Vought to Stratford, Connecticut and renamed the entire division Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft.
September, 14 1939
With Igor Sikorsky at the controls, the first helicopter ever flown successfully in the United States lifted it’s wheels from the earth, on the property near Sniffens Lane. The Vought-Sikorsky 300A’s first flight would lead to a revolution in how people could move. It led immediately to a version for the U. S. Army designated VS-316 (XR-4) which was delivered in 1942. The Army Air Corps became interested in Sikorsky’s success and ordered a production model helicopter.
Manufacture of Sikorsky’s R-4, the world’s first production helicopter and the only one to see action in World War II, began at the Stratford plant in 1942. The production plant was quickly overcrowded, however, and in January 1943, Sikorsky moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut for the sole purpose of helicopter production.
World War II
Stratford Joins the Arsenal of Democracy
The Vought Sikorsky OS2U Kingfisher was widely used as a shipboard, catapult launched scout plane on US Navy battleships, heavy cruisers and light cruisers during World War II, as well as playing a major role in support of shore bombardments and air-sea rescue. Two examples showing the plane’s rescue capabilities include the recovery of World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker and his crew from the Pacific in November 1942 and LT John A. Burns’ unique use of the aircraft in April 1944 to taxi airmen rescued from the Truk Lagoon to the submarine USS Tang which was serving rescue duty near the atoll on that date. In all, LT Burns rescued 10 survivors on two trips and was awarded the Navy Cross for his efforts.
Chance Vought , Albert Kahn & The F4U Corsair
Chance Vought was reestablished as a separate division in United Aircraft in 1942. Rex Beisel, the Chief Engineer, began in 1938 to develop the XF4U, recognized by its distinctly inverted gull wings. The a maiden flight in 1940 was at the Bridgeport Airport , across the street from the plant. To accommodate the war-time production demands for the Corsair, Chance Vought Aircraft hired the noted industrial architects, Albert Kahn, Associated of Detroit, Michigan, to design extensive additions to the existing manufacturing facility. From 1942 until 1944, Kahn’s office oversaw industrial and administrative additions to the original Sikorsky plant. An aircraft assembly plant addition (Building 2) was designed by Kahn and constructed in 1942. This major addition, measuring 380’ by 250’, was located on the north end of the existing assembly plant and roughly doubled the manufacturing capacity of the Chance Vought plant. The addition typifies Kahn’s World War II era industrial designs, with a high central bay (dictated by the existing assembly plant) flanked by two industrial bays, with Kahn’s characteristic V-shaped monitor windows.
In 1943, Kahn’s office designed a two-story brick office addition and a three-story brick office addition adjacent to the original Sikorsky administrative building. In 1944 the firm completed another major addition to the assembly plant. This section, measuring 380’ by 400’, was the same design as Kahn’s 1942 addition. The north factory extension, an L-shaped addition, was also completed in 1944 and added shipping and receiving warehouse space, as well as three stories of office and drafting space. These additions, as well as others (including the large final assembly bay in 1943), provided a greatly expanded industrial plant capable of handling production of the Corsair airplane.
During World War II, Chance Vought produced 4,120 Corsairs of the initial F4U-1 version at the Stratford plant. To increase war-time production of the Corsair, the Navy also hired two subcontractors, Brewster Aeronautical Corporation of Long Island and Goodyear Aircraft Corporation of Akron, Ohio. Together they produced 4,543 Corsairs during World War II. At the height of producrion one F4U Corsair came off the production line every 80 minutes!
In postwar 1949, Vought moved operations to Dallas, Texas. Initiated by the Navy, who feared having their two main aircraft manufacturers located on the East Coast posed an unnecessary risk, Vought moved 27 million pounds of equipment and 1300 employees in 14 months, a record breaking industrial move at the time. 550 Main Street’s future was uncertain.
1951 – 1998
Air Force Plant #43 – Avco – Avco Lycoming – Allied Signal
This move left the Stratford plant vacant, and soon afterward, flooding from the HousatonicRiver damaged much of the facility. The US Air Force purchased the facility in 1951 and renamed it Air Force Plant No. 43. Avco Corporation became the contractor operating the plant and they repaired the damaged buildings, and built dikes. Avco moved a company they owned, Lycoming into the plant in the same year and began manufacturing Wright R-1820 piston engines and General Electric J47 components there. In 1952 Lycoming had Anselm Franz set up a turbine engine development effort in the plant and the Lycoming T53, Lycoming T55, Lycoming PLF1, Lycoming LTS101/LPT101, Lycoming ALF 502, Lycoming AGT1500 and Lycoming TF-40 turbine engines were all designed, developed and manufactured in this facility. By 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, 10,000 people were employed in the plant.
In 1976, the plant was transferred from the Air Force to the Army and renamed the Stratford Army Engine Plant. In 1987 Avco was purchased by Textron to become Textron Lycoming and in 1995, Allied Signal acquired the Lycoming Turbine Engine Division in Stratford. By this time, employment in the plant had fallen to 2,900 people.
In late 1995, Allied Signal announced that production would be shifted to its facility in Phoenix, Arizona. In September 1998, Allied Signal concluded operations in the plant and returned it to the US Army. AGT1500 production was shifted by the Army to the Anniston Army Depot (ANAD) in Anniston, Alabama. Because of the Base Realignment and Closure actions of the United States Department of Defense, closure of the plant was recommended in July 1995. On September, 30 1998 550 Main Street locked its gates for good after 69 years of revolutionary design and production.
The 78 acre site sits shuttered and quiet awaiting a developer. The only signs of life besides the crew of Maintenance personnel keeping the property presentable, is the ConnecticutAir & SpaceCenter. Located on the east side of Sniffens Lane since 1998, the Museum has been trying to preserve a small part of the sites tremendous history. The museum currently has one of every engine produced at the site as well as several historic Sikorksy helicopters and several jet powered military trainers. They may be best know for the current restoration of the Sikorsky Memorial Corsair currently underway.
The museum hopes to establish a permanent world class educational and cultural center here to showcase the industrial and technical achievements of this most historic and locally significant location