Charles Kaman: Helicopter innovator and acoustic guitar inventor

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Today’s New York Times ran the obituary of a true innovator – Charles H. Kaman who died this past Monday at the age of 91. Not only was Mr. Kaman one of true innovators of helicopter design, but he also managed to also invent one of the first electrically amplified acoustic guitars.

According to the New York Times:

Mr. Kaman (pronounced ka-MAN) was a 26-year-old aeronautical engineer when he founded the Kaman Aircraft Company in 1945 in the garage of his mother’s home in West Hartford, Conn. By the time he retired as chairman in 2001, he had built the Kaman Corporation into a billion-dollar concern that distributes motors, pumps, bearings and other products as well as making helicopters and their parts.

Within the aerospace industry, Mr. Kaman is best known for inventing dual intermeshing helicopter rotors, which move in opposite directions, and for introducing the gas turbine jet engine to helicopters. The company’s HH-43 Huskie was a workhorse in rescue missions in the Vietnam War.

Mr. Kaman, a guitar enthusiast, also invented the Ovation guitar, effectively reversing the vibration-reducing technology of helicopters to create a generously vibrating instrument that incorporated aerospace materials into its rounded back. In the mid-1960s he created Ovation Instruments, a division of his company, to manufacture it.

The Ovation allows musicians to amplify their sound without generating the feedback that often comes from using microphones. It was popularized in the late 1960s by the pop and country star Glen Campbell, who played it on his television show, “The Glen Campbell Good Time Hour,” and who appeared in advertisements for the company. A long roster of rock and folk music guitarists began using it as well.

Here’s the takeaway: Between building a billion dollar aerospace company from scratch by producing cutting-edge aircraft to inventing one of the first acoustic guitars, Charles Kaman was one of the leading innovators of our time.

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