Monday, October 17, 2016
On the Cutting Edge of Blades
Blades that go round and round were a lifelong fascination for Glid Doman. He started out designing, and then manufacturing, pioneering helicopters and after that business closed, he moved on to another then-new field — air-driven turbines for generating electricity. As tireless as the blades he designed, Doman was still working well into his 90s.
Glidden Sweet Doman was born in New York, in 1921. He came from a family of innovators: His father and uncle set up the first electrical system for their small town, and his brother designed engines for Franklin automobiles and the first Sikorski helicopters. In his teens, Doman built motorized go-carts and an aerodynamically streamlined Soapbox Derby racer, winning a regional race in Syracuse when he was 15. He even built an airplane, but could never get an engine for it.
Soon after Doman graduated from the University of Michigan, his brother invited him to attend a Society of Automotive Engineers meeting at which Igor Sikorsky was speaking. That sparked an interest in helicopters — still a very new invention — and their rotor blades, which back then suffered quickly from fatigue.
In 1943, Doman went to work for Sikorsky in Bridgeport, specializing in making blades strong, long-lasting, yet light and flexible. He participating in intensive experimentation and flight testing, and making major improvements in helicopter blade life. It was during World War II, and his contributions were so vital that Igor Sikorsky himself appealed to the draft board to keep him on the test program.
In 1945, he left Sikorski and founded Doman Helicopters Inc., which produced small helicopters and was headquartered for many years at Danbury Airport. At Doman Helicopters, he developed innovations years earlier than larger competitors; some of them are now standard in today's helicopter technology.
“The driving force behind Doman engineering was sharp focus on understanding what the helicopter and especially its blades and rotor hub were doing,” said Susan Orred in a 2013 profile of Doman. “The resulting insights produced the firm’s hallmark trait – aeronautic design with elegant simplicity.”
In the 1950s, the company produced three LZ-5 helicopters, which employed Glidden Doman’s rotor designs and other innovations. They could carry six passengers plus a pilot and copilot, and received both military and commercial certification.
The company hoped to gain military contracts, and two LZ-5s were sold to the Army. However, military never bought any more. The lack of military contracts eventually spelled Doman’s doom. The company, which moved to Pennsylvania in 1965 and closed in 1969, had as many as 130 employees. The only remaining LZ-5 is at the New England Air Museum at Bradley Airport in Windsor Locks, which also has a smaller Doman R-6 helicopter.
After his company closed, Doman spent the next few years with Boeing, designing rotors for its Vertol XCH-62 heavy-lift helicopter and performing other rotor research.
He then turned to a new career, becoming chief systems engineer of the wind energy program at Hamilton Standard, developing very large wind turbines, which have some common blade technology with helicopters.
In 2003, he formed a new company, Gamma Ventures Inc., to market production rights for the Gamma turbines he helped design in Italy.
Doman had lived in Ridgefield from 1958 to 1967 — his wife, Joan, who died in 2003, was a teacher at Ridgefield High School.
Doman spent his last 35 years in Granby and remained active well into his 90s. Until he died in 2016 at the age of 95, he was the last founder of one of the original half-dozen companies in the U.S. helicopter industry still living.
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