The Genius of Charles H. Kaman – Part 1

Short Flights


Kaman K-MAX at Tehachapi Airport in 2006.

This specialized Kaman K-MAX helicopter operated by Rainier Heli-Lift of Kirkland, Washington was based at Tehachapi Airport ten years ago in 2006.

The K-MAX is powered with a Lycoming T-53-17A gas turbine engine and develops 1800 shaft horsepower. The rotor system consists of two intermeshing all composite blades; 48-feet, 4-inches total span. The empty weight is 5,100 pounds and its gross weight is 12,000 pounds.

Everyone knows that I am a spirit loving person and Charles H. Kaman is a fantastic visionary with spirit, who revolutionized the helicopter industry over 60 years ago!

"No place else but in America could a guy like me start a company in 1945 with an idea and just $2,000, and 50 years later it is a billion-dollar successful corporation," said Charles H. Kaman when he received the National Medal of Technology in 1996. The National Medal of Technology has rewarded American innovation since 1986."

Kaman was born in 1919 and grew up in Washington, DC. He earned a BS in Aeronautical Engineering from Catholic University, graduating magna cum laude, then went to work at Hamilton Standard, where he designed helicopter rotor blades for Igor Sikorsky. In 1945, at the age of 26, aman left Hamilton to form Kaman Aircraft Company. It was Sikorsky who encouraged Kaman to launch out with his own designs.

Kaman had invented a revolutionary type of helicopter rotor, with aerodynamic "servocontrolled flaps" that automatically adjusted themselves to improve the safety and stability of the aircraft. After raising $2,000 capital from friends, Kaman began designing his own helicopter. Two years later (1947), Kaman was selling his first model, the K-125. It is now displayed in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington D.C. It also was the first helicopter flown through a loop aerobatic maneuver in 1953 during a delivery flight to the U.S. Navy at Patuxent River.

Kaman designed and built the first single turbine engine helicopter, which first flew in 1949; Kaman also designed the first twin-turbine helicopter. In 1957, he designed and operated the first remote-controlled helicopter. In Operation Desert Storm, US troops used Kaman Corp.'s patented Magic Lantern mine detection system.

Portrait of Charles H. Kaman.

Charles H. Kaman, an innovator in the development and manufacture of helicopter technology and, following a wholly different passion, the inventor of one of the first electrically amplified acoustic guitars, died January 31, 2011 in Bloomfield, Conn. He was 91.

(Just thought you would like to know that one of Mojave Airport's tenants also received the national medal of technology in 1991; the Pegasus Team, Orbital Sciences Corporation, developers of the first commercial space launch vehicle.

Also of note, Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites designed and produced all the flying surfaces for the Pegasus rocket launch vehicle, including the fabrication and test of the Pegasus tail fins which was a graphite/foam sandwich structure over a reinforced urethane core.)

Part 2 of this article will appear in the next issue! See you on our next flight!


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