The Sikorsky Kraftsman
A Spotlight on AIM Atlanta’s Day Coordinator, Christopher Kraft.
By Diana Hammond, Edited by Jul DeGeus
Christopher Kraft is the Day Coordinator at the Aviation Institute of Maintenance located in the Atlanta Metro area of Georgia. He started his career with AIM over ten years ago and since has become a prominent and supportive figure on campus. From supervising, hiring and training instructors to ensuring compliance with the FAA, Kraft is vital to making sure the operation of the AMT program runs smoothly. Like so many, Kraft has a colorful and exciting past that most are unfamiliar with. A life woven with tales of aviation, adventure and his passion for history, Kraft was fortunate enough to find himself involved in some historic events.
From a young age, Kraft knew he wanted to work in aviation. At age 18, he enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard and worked hard as a “deckie” for three years until he was able to train and become an aircraft specialist. The first helicopter flight that Mr. Kraft ever took was in a Sikorsky HH-52A, while stationed in Port Huron, Michigan. Little did he know how big of an impact this would have on his life. Kraft instantaneously became entranced with helicopters and the way the aircraft could perform life-saving auto rotations during that first ride. After he finished his training in Port Huron, Kraft was stationed at the Detroit Coast Guard Station. The Detroit unit was the last unit in the Coast Guard with active Sikorsky HH-52As in their fleet. Kraft held the position of crew chief, or flight mechanic, for the unit that covered an area of over 400 miles from Saginaw, Michigan to Buffalo, New York.
Throughout the late 1980s, the Sikorsky HH-52As began to be decommissioned, dwindling their numbers. In 1989, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum contracted the Coast Guard with requests to fly a Sikorsky HH-52A from Elizabeth City, North Carolina to preserve the aircraft in the museum’s collection. Based off of Kraft’s intimate experience and extensive knowledge of the helicopter, he was chosen to be part of the groundbreaking maintenance and delivery mission.
A few years later, Kraft was transferred from the Detroit Coast Guard Base to the Brooklyn Coast Guard Air Station at Floyd Bennett Field. The Brooklyn Coast Guard Air Station was, at the time, the oldest working search and rescue unit in the world. While with the Brooklyn Coast Guard Unit, Kraft delivered yet another Sikorsky HH-52A to an infamous museum; this time, he performed the maintenance and delivery of a Sikorsky HH-52A to the USS Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum Complex on the Hudson River.
In 1994, the Brooklyn Coast Guard Air Station was decommissioned and Kraft, along with his crew, found an original rescue hoist designed by Igor Sikorsky, the founder of Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation and pioneer in helicopter design and manufacturing. (1)Additionally, they found a guestbook that had been signed by historic figures including Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, to name a few. These two items were sent to find a home, alongside the Sikorsky HH-52A at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum collection. To the public, the Sikorsky HH-52A helicopter, the rescue hoist, and the memorabilia at the Smithsonian are historical artifacts, to be gazed upon, read about and passed by. But to Kraft these were, and will always be, pieces of living history that defined significant moments in his life.
Kraft is a veteran of many search and rescue missions that were performed on Sikorsky HH-52As. The Sikorsky HH-52As are credited with saving over 40,000 lives while in commission. “As far as maintenance goes, it would take up to eight hours of maintenance to fix a helicopter that had landed in the water. After rescuing a person, and delivering them home safely, my mission was to take care of the Sikorsky that made it all possible,” Kraft reminisces.
Helicopters have become one of the most indispensable aircrafts in the world, with their efficiency in performing life-saving tasks. Christopher Kraft, of the Aviation Institute of Maintenance, is a fine example of someone who has fulfilled the dream of Igor Sikorsky in helicopter rescue and maintenance. Thank you, Mr. Kraft, for passing on your legacy and passion to our students at AIM Atlanta on a daily basis.
1Recognizing Igor I. Sikorsky, a National Aviation Pioneer, H. RES. 331, 108th Cong. (2003-2004).