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PASSING OF A PIONEER Charles Kaman 1919-2011 Helicopter pioneer Charles

Kaman passed away on January 31, 2011, at the age of 91. Mr. Kaman was a distinguished inventor, accomplished musician, innovative businessman and humanitarian. In addition to founding and serving as the CEO of the bil- lion-dollar Kaman Corporation, Charles Kaman also developed the Ovation guitar and started the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation. Charles Kaman grew up


Washington, D.C. and had a strong interest in model airplanes as a child. In 1940, Kaman graduated number one in his class with a degree in aero- nautical engineering from Catholic University.

After graduation, he

moved to East Hartford, Connecticut to work for Hamilton Standard, which was then a division of United Aircraft. While at Hamilton Standard, he got his first exposure

to the helicopter

after seeing a demonstration of an early Sikorsky model. Hamilton Standard later did design work for Sikorsky and Kaman headed up the aerodynamics portion. Kaman became con- cerned with the large forces that were needed to control a helicopter and with the helicopter’s lack of stability. This led him to invent his patented servo flap control system, which became a key feature on Kaman helicop- ters. After failing to interest anyone at United Aircraft in his new control system, Kaman left his job at Hamilton Standard to start his own company. In 1945 with only $2,000 in loans from friends, 26-year-old Charles

Kaman founded the Kaman Aircraft Corporation in his mother’s garage. Kaman worked tirelessly to keep his fledgling company going.

Despite his

inexperience and a lack of money, Kaman’s first helicopter the K-125 made its maiden flight in 1947. Charles Kaman would later get his company’s foot in the door to military sales by selling three K-225s to the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard. In 1949, Kaman submitted the HOK-1 for a Marine Corps solicitation for an observation helicopter. Out of this came arguably Kaman’s most successful helicopter line the H-43. Over 400 H-43 variants were produced.

Originally a piston powered, intermeshing rotor design, the H- 43 saw service with the Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force beginning in 48

the 1950s and ending in the 1970s. Later models were turbine powered and H-43s earned a reputation as workhorse with good high altitude performance. The H- 43 was primarily used for aircraft fire fighting but also saw combat search and rescue duty in Vietnam. In the late 1950s, Kaman designed a

new helicopter for the U.S. Navy which became known as the UH-2/SH-2 Seasprite. The Seasprite was one of the most technologically advanced helicop- ters at the time and combined a robust navigation package with anti-ice capabil- ity, a hull capable of water landings and a finely tuned rotor system allowing speeds up to 165 miles per hour while minimizing vibration levels. Seasprites began service in the U.S. Navy in 1962 and were not retired from the naval inventory until the last one flew for the Naval Reserve in 2001.

Over 250

Seasprites, of several variations were built and they continue on active service in

several foreign navies. Charles Kaman had a remarkable career in the helicopter industry. Under Kaman’s leadership Kaman helicopters made many important firsts.


1951, a K-225 became the first helicopter with a turbine engine and Kaman Aircraft later became the first major helicopter producer to switch its pro- duction line entirely to turbine power. In 1961, an H-43B became the first helicopter to fly with composite rotor blades and Kaman Aerospace is still a leader in composite helicopter components. However, Charles Kaman had more reason to be proud of his company than just its technological achievements.

Kaman helicopters have also saved over 15,000 lives. In

honor of his many contributions to aviation and technology, Charles Kaman received numerous honors and awards including the Aviation Week and Space Technology Laureate Award, Wright

Brothers Memorial Trophy,

United States Medal of Technology and Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Medal.

Kaman was also a past president of

the American Helicopter Society and a member of the U.S. Naval Aviation Hall of Honor, National Inventors Hall of Fame and honorary fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

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