Categories: Bloomfield, Igor Sikorsky, Invention and Technology, Transportation, West Hartford

Helicopters, Guitars, and Guide Dogs: The Revolutionary Mind of Charles Kaman

Kaman Aircraft, 1949

Charles Kaman, an inventor and aviation pioneer, managed to combine all of his passions in life (namely flying, music, and dogs) into successful business ventures. An inductee into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, Kaman received numerous awards during his lifetime, including the United States Department of Defense Public Service Medal and the National Medal of Technology. His achievements extend beyond personal accolades, however, as they helped to improve the quality of life for people around the world.

Born in Washington, DC, in 1919, Charles Kaman spent his childhood enamored with the concept of flight. He graduated magna cum laude from Catholic University in 1940 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Aeronautical Engineering. Shortly after, he took a job at the Hamilton Standard Propeller Corporation, where he worked on helicopter designs with Igor Sikorsky. During this time, Kaman developed his concept for “servo flaps”—tiny flaps added to the edge of rotor blades to improve stability—and helped popularize the use of intermeshing rotors as a way to increase lift.

Charles H. Kaman

Charles H. Kaman – National Air and Space Museum Archives

In 1945 Kaman struck out on his own. Starting work in the garage of his mother’s West Hartford home, he utilized $2,000 invested by two friends to found what eventually became the Kaman Corporation of Bloomfield, Connecticut. Throughout the 1950s Kaman produced one innovative design after the next, developing the first helicopter powered by a gas turbine, the first twin-turbine helicopter, and in 1957, the first remote-controlled helicopter.

From Good Vibrations to Fidelco Guide Dogs for the Blind

In the 1960s, Kaman began to diversify his business by indulging in a number of his personal interests. A guitar enthusiast, Kaman founded the Ovation Guitar Company (making it a division of his Kaman Corporation) by taking what he knew of vibration dampening technology and using it for contrary purposes—to create a guitar with vibrating qualities that allowed for amplification without the feedback of microphones. It was also during this period that he embraced his passion for dogs by founding the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation. Kaman bred German Shepherds until developing a dog with the proper temperament for assisting the blind.

Charles Kaman retired from his position as chairman of the Kaman Corporation in 2001 and passed away in Bloomfield in 2011. Today, the Kaman Corporation is a worldwide leader in aviation technology and valued at over $1 billion.

LEARN MORE

Websites

“Charles H. Kaman.” Kaman, 2013. Link.
“Kaman K-16B.” New England Air Museum, 2013. Link.
“Kaman K-225.” New England Air Museum, 2013. Link.
“Kaman SH-2F ‘Seasprite.’” New England Air Museum, 2013. Link.

Places

“New England Air Museum,” 2016. Link.

Books

Kaman, Charles H. Kaman Corporation: An American Story. New York, NY: Newcomen Society of the United States, 1983.
Kaman, Charles H. Kaman: Our Early Years. Indianapolis, IN: Curtis Publishing Company, 1985.
Carter, Walter, and Jon F. Eiche. The History of the Ovation Guitar. Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard, 1996.

Articles

Rich, Motoko. “Charles H. Kaman, Helicopter Innovator, Dies at 91.” The New York Times, February 2, 2011, sec. Business Day. Link.
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