Photo of Charles Kaman

Charles Kaman

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Aerospace
For his pioneering work in the field of rotary-wing flight, his unique capacity for successful technology transfer from defense to commercial use, and for fostering a corporate environment in which diverse technological achievements flourish and new businesses are created.

It was, perhaps, an odd way to sum up the life of a genius. But Charles H. Kaman no doubt would have been happy with the words his son, C. William Kaman II, told The New York Times at the time of Charles’s death in 2011: “It came down to helicopters, guitars and dogs.”

As a boy, Charles Kaman wanted to be a pilot. Deafness in one ear put an end to that dream but not to his love of flight.

Kaman received a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Catholic University of America in 1940. In 1945 he founded Kaman Aircraft Co., which would go on to become a billion-dollar corporation and revolutionize helicopter flight with inventions ranging from intermeshing rotors to remote-control flight. Kaman helicopters continue to receive extensive use by the U.S. military.

But flight was only one of his passions.

An accomplished musician who turned down an offer to play with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Kaman put his engineering ingenuity to work in inventing the Ovation guitar. The new guitar greatly reduced the feedback that amplified instruments generate, allowing for loud – but clear — music.

Kaman is also remembered for his humanitarian work. He and his wife, Roberta, founded Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation in 1960, which breeds and trains German Shepherd guide dogs for the visually impaired.

By Robert Warren