“NHA’s Most Worthwhile Endeavor.”
Charles Kaman Memorial Scholarship
From an early age young Charles Huron Kaman had a keen interest in aviation, and an unshakable belief in the American Dream. As a teenager flying balsa wood and paper models with rubberband motors, he set unofficial records for time aloft. One time, tired of spinning the propeller by hand to wind the rubber bands, he used an eggbeater. The bands snapped and the plane imploded. This incident, instead of discouraging him, reinforced his desire to become an innovator in the budding field of aviation.
His ambition to become a professional pilot was shattered when, after a tonsillectomy, a severe infection left him deaf in one ear. He decided that, if he could not fly aircraft, he would build them.
In the spring of 1943, at age 23, Charlie watched the first Sikorsky helicopter hover and air taxi around a small airfield. As the chief of aerodynamics for Hamilton standard’s helicopter activities, Kaman was in charge of the rotor blade development efforts in support of Sikorsky’s helicopter project.
He admired Sikorsky’s achievement, but he knew he could build a better helicopter. At the time, helicopter development was a very difficult technical challenge. Engines lacked power to provide for practical payloads. Inherent helicopter instability made control difficult and the pilot’s workload exhausting. Components were subject to enormous dynamic stresses that limited theirworking life. Despite the long workdays at Hamilton during WWII, on his own time Kaman began to solve these problems. Working from his mother’s garage, he bought a wrecked 1933 Pontiac at the local junkyard for $50. He used its frame and engine, coupled to the differential from an old Dodge truck with one axle mounted vertically, to build a test rig. He used bathroom scales to measure lift, and wooden boards from the local lumberyard to build test rotor blades.
In 1949 the Navy needed an observation and rescue helicopter for the Marine Corps. In March 1950, Kaman’s pilot flew the K-225 to the Naval Air Test Center (NATC), Patuxent River, Maryland, for demonstration and to train the Navy’s test pilots. After a cool reception, Kaman’s pilot took the helicopter up and, before a large group of naval aviators, performed a loop. He became an instant hero.
The Navy awarded Kaman a contract for a Marine observation helicopter, the HOK-1, the HTK-1 - a trainer, and the HUK-1 - a utility aircraft. Experience gained in Korea proved that the current military helicopter was underpowered and could not meet the payload requirements in the hot and humid summer days on the Korean Peninsula. The Navy turned to the Kaman K-255 instead, and Kaman Aircraft grew from 25 employees to 750 workers in a new 155,000 square feet factory in Bloomfield, Connecticut.
Kaman subsequently broke new ground with many “firsts.” In 1951, he built the world’s first turbine-powered helicopter. In 1953, he modified a HTK-1 to become the world’s first pilotless helicopter, controlled by radio from a remote station. In 1954, his was the world’s first twin-turbine-powered helicopter. In 1961 his HH-43B carrying a 1,000 kilograms payload set a helicopter altitude
record of 26,369 feet. Later that year another HH-43B climbed to 32,840 feet. Nicknamed “Pedro,” these helicopters saw extensive combat duty in Vietnam, where they rescued thousands of downed flyers. In 1957, Kaman was selected to produce the Navy’s single rotor UH-2 Seasprite series. The small Seasprites were ideal for operations from the small decks of frigates and destroyers, and the LAMPS concept became a success. In 1992, Kaman’s K-MAX, a single engine, single seat, light lift helicopter completed its first flight, and can lift more than its own weight. By 2004, twenty-seven K-MAX helicopters were in service with civil and military operators in more than a dozen countries. It is being tested in Afghanistan for lifting supplies in a semi-autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle role.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s the company expanded its aerospace subcontracting and parts manufacturing business and conducted advanced research in the nuclear and electronics fields. Kaman Corporation grew into a Fortune 500 company, and by 1989, Kaman Corporation employed nearly 6,500 people in a billion dollar enterprise.
In 1999, at age 80, Charles Kaman finally retired after a 54-year amazing career. This extraordinary man received innumerable honors throughout his career, including: National Inventors
Hall of Fame, the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy, the National Medal of Technology, the Naval Aviation Hall of Honor, and the Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Medal. At age 91, Charlie Kaman, philanthropist, inventor, musician, technological genius, and an iconic entrepreneur who embodied the promise and the realization of the American Dream, passed away 31 January, 2011. In his memory, the Charlie Kaman Scholarship was established for the Naval Helicopter Association.
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