Constructor Assen Yordanov – from kite to Boeing

Photo: archive
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. 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 aircraft engineering.
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.

English version: Zhivko Stanchev
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