Semion (Shimon) Lavochkin was born in 1900 in Western Russia. His father Alter was a melamed (religious teacher). According to some sources, Semion's birthplace was the city of Smolensk; according to other sources, he was born in the small town of Petrovichi (80 kilometers south of Smolensk) that was then in the Pale of Settlement. In any case, Semion spent his childhood in town of Roslavl (also in the Pale of Settlement), 20 miles east of Petrovichi, where he graduated from a real school, i.e., one that focuses on science and technology. In spite of the fact that his father's first name was the Yiddish Alter, for all of his adult life Lavochkin was registered officially as Semion Alekseievich, i.e. with the patronymic derived from the Russian name Aleksei.
As a youth, Lavochkin took part in the Russian civil war of 1918-20. He served as a soldier in the Red Army, which in 1920 sent him to study at the Moscow's Bauman Higher Technical School. He graduated in 1927 as an engineer in aeromechanics. Under the guidance of famous Andrei Tupolev and together with him, Lavochkin took part in the designing of the first Soviet bomber TB-1.
During the Soviet-German war, Lavochkin headed an airplane design bureau in Gorkii (now Nizhnii Novgorod, 400 kilometers east of Moscow). He designed ten fighter airplanes, including the LA-5, the leading Soviet fighter plane of the early part of the war, the LA-7, and modifications of them. Between 1941 and 1945, 22,500 LA planes rolled off conveyor belts at Soviet aircraft plants. It was largely due to Lavochkin that the Soviet air force won air supremacy on the Soviet-German front between 1943 and 1945.
The Soviet Yiddish newspaper Eynikayt wrote: "The LA-5 is one of the machines most beloved by Soviet pilots, and one of the machines most feared by the fascists. The Jewish people can be grateful to Lavochkin, who designed a fearsome machine to kill its worst enemies, the Hitlerites."
In 1942 Lavochkin was promoted to the rank of major-general, and in 1943 he was awarded the title of Hero of the Socialist Labor. During the war, he also received several military orders, as well as two Stalin prizes (for the upgrading of the prewar Soviet fighter plane the LaGG in 1941 and for the designing of the LA-5 and for its upgrading in 1943). Surprisingly, he joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union only in 1953.
After the war, Lavochkin continued to work as a leading Soviet aircraft designer. His was the first Soviet fighter to reach the speed of sound (in 1947). Lavochkin died in 1960 from heart failure, during the testing of a new air- defense system he designed.
Streets in Smolensk, Moscow, and other places are named after him.