On May 21, current employees and past associates of Kaman Corp. gathered to honor its founder, Charles H. Kaman, who passed away on January 21, 2011. The man many called “one of the true helicopter pioneers” died of natural causes at age 91.
Known to all associated with him as “Charlie,” Kaman graduated from Catholic University in Washington, D.C., with a degree in aeronautical engineering in 1940. He went on to become the head of aerodynamics at United Aircraft, where he occasionally approached his bosses about ideas he had for new designs. “Charlie, we have our inventor … his name is Igor Sikorsky. We don’t need another,” was the reply that led the 26-year old Kaman to start his own company.
Kaman’s helicopters provided many of the rotorcraft industry’s firsts, including first production twin-turbine helicopter, first composite rotor blades and first remotely power vehicle.
Kaman also founded several subsidiaries, namely Kaman Aerospace, a design house credited with building components for nearly every aircraft flying today; Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, which he founded with his late wife, Roberta; and Kaman Music, manufacturers of the Ovation guitar, which Kaman designed and played. (Kaman Music was sold to Fender Musical Instruments in 2007.)
Attendees, including sons Steve and Bill, daughter Cathleen, and associates who had been with the company in its early days, spoke of Kaman’s attention to detail, as well as his interest in maintaining a family atmosphere at his Bloomfield base of operations. “Charlie spoke of three fundaments of the Kaman culture,” said Russell Jones, retired senior vice president and treasurer. “We heard them many times: technical preeminence, fiscal discipline and people dedication. They formed Charlie’s thinking about every business decision he made.”