Assen Yordanov - from kite to Boeing
published on 10/29/12
The 100th anniversary since the
beginning of the First Balkan War /1912 - 1916/ is marked in October. It was
followed by a second regional conflict in the summer of 1913. Next followed the
World War I that engaged the Great Powers, despite being a sort of a historical
sequel of the previous conflicts in the Balkans. The battlefield expanded
across the entire globe during WWII and the end was heavy for both the winning
and defeated countries.
That was when inventor Assen Yordanov
/1896 - 1967/, known by the nickname of Jerry among his friends in America,
used to live. His dream of flying established Bulgarian aircraft industry, but
also contributed a lot to the development of the US aviation. Little Assen was
curious about flying as early as his childhood years. He extended birds' wings
at the family farm of his father - wealthy engineer and chemist Dr. Hristo
Yordanov, in order to find out what made them fly. Assen even jumped off trees
to imitate the birds' flight, waving with his hands. He loved making kites. He
voluntarily attended classes in chemistry and physics at the High School in
Commerce in the Danube town of Svishtov, where his father used to be a
director. In the beginning of the 20th century young Assen had the chance to
see the newest versions of biplanes, motorcycles and other vehicles at
technical exhibitions in Italy, Switzerland and France. He signed up for the
flying school of famous French pilot and constructor Louis Bleriot in Paris.
However, news on the concentration of Turkish military forces along the border
with Bulgaria spread and Assen Yordanov returned to his motherland to help it
with his flying skills and courage.
He became a mechanic of the aircraft squad near Svilengrad, South Bulgaria,
barely 16 years old. The young man flied with the pilots at reconnaissance
missions and worked on the construction of the first Bulgarian plane. Bulgaria
was one of the first countries worldwide that used the aircraft for military
purposes in the beginning of the 20th century and the capacity of its air
forces was similar to the ones of the UK, USA, Italy and Japan back then. The
Yordanov 1 plane already flied in the summer of 1915, after a series of
experiments. It was a reconnaissance / bomber type with a wingspan of 14 m and
a length of 8.5 m. His parameters were good for the time - a take-off distance
of 65 m, landing one - 50 m, average speed of 85 km/h at a height of 500 m. The
press covered the story in 1915, writing that a brand new airplane could be
seen, ready to fly that had been combined and invented by high school student
Yordanov. The machine was a successful combination of the existing types of
biplanes. Assen invented something new and very useful that had been missing
before - a device, preventing the falling of the plane. This was a purely
Bulgarian invention, which made the nation proud… The biplane was immediately
bought by the Defense Ministry.
The next ambitious project of the young constructor for a heavier, multi-engine
airplane turned out to be impossible in terms of execution here, in Bulgaria.
The First World War burst out and Bulgaria would be among the defeated
countries. It was banned from keeping any aviation, all the aircrafts were
destroyed and the officers were fired. However, Assen Yordanov continued to
dream of flying. Air He and his friend pilot Aleksandar Stoyanov read in 1921
in the Flugsport German magazine that the International Aeronautical Federation
would organize a flying trip around the world in cooperation with clubs from
the USA, Germany and France. The contest should start in New York. In a letter,
sent to then acting PM Aleksandar Stamboliyski and asking for a financial
support to the tune of USD 6,000 Yordanov wrote: "The significance of this
contest is beyond any doubt, since all civilized nations will meet in the air
in this knight tournament. The world will see that the Bulgarian people have
the powerful spirit to struggle with dignity in this sphere." The pm gave the
money and both young men went to America, but the contest didn't take place.
Assen Yordanov opted for a longer stay in the US and after several difficult
years of adaptation he started to build his career of a legend in American
He signed in for studies in aircraft engineering, chemistry, physics and radio
engineering, he worked as a constructor and test pilot. Assen quickly gained
popularity thanks to his talent and in 1941 he already headed his own company,
initially called Jordanoff Aviation Corporation, with offices on Madison Avenue
in New York. His company worked for the US defense industry. Assen became even
more popular, when he opened his own aviation school that turned into the most
prestigious one in a short period. All the 9 specialized books, published by
the expert became a major tool of the young pilots. They have been translated
to French, Spanish, Italian and even Chinese, but not in Bulgarian,
unfortunately. Assen created a training movie too and during WWII it was
screened to US air force pilots. Then Boeing selected the company of Assen
Yordanov to take part in the development of the manuals of Superfortress, B-29,
which was considered to be the best bomber, used till the end of the war.
Yordanov remained related to and respected by Boeing till the end of his life.
The Bulgarian participated directly in the creation of different American
planes throughout WWII. A statement of General Ronald Fogleman, head of the US
air forces headquarters in 1996 read: "One of these planes was P-40 that
participated in nearly all battles, along with P-38, a fighter with two engines
and a serious range and mobility, which dominated the Pacific air fights. The
B-17 bomber was the third plane, constructed by Yordanov that conquered all the
battlefields in Europe."
After the war Assen Yordanov opted for other spheres. During the 1950s he
worked on the security of automobiles and was one of the inventors of airbags.
He also constructed the Jordanoff device - an ancestor of the phone secretary.
Assen died at the age of 71 and his dust was spread over America from an
airplane. He used to be an honorary citizen of New York and his portrait is
exposed at the LaGuardia Airport's hall of fame. The National Museum for
American Art exhibits his personal belongings and archives and a signboard
reading Assen Yordanov - a Bulgarian Pilot hangs on its front door.
version: Zhivko Stanchev
Assen Jordanoff - the man who
contributed to America's airpower
Brief biography of a great Bulgarian, see
19th revision, 15 Apr 2008
By Plamen Antonov
"Jordanoff's contribution was
essential to the advancement of U.S. aviation, thanks to his
instructional/analytical books in the field of aeronautics and its processes,
as well as thanks to the direct application of his engineering and practical
skills in the building of aircraft.
Jordanoff directly participated in the
creation of important flying craft during WWII. One of them was P-40, which was
present on all the combat sites and played a major part in air-to-air or
air-to-ground confrontations. Another plane that greatly owes to him was the
P-38, a 2-motor fighter having a large degree of mobility and range. It had a
predominant role in the Pacific War, although it could be useful for many other
purposes as well. The third plane whose construction was due to Jordanoff was
the B-17 bomber, which became an indispensable unit in our strategic bombing
forces, and was present on all the battlefields in Europe."
General Ronald R. Fogleman
Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force (1996)
BOOKS BY ASSEN JORDANOFF: