Unmanned Helicopters Could Augment Vertical Lift Transport in Combat Areas

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October 2011 Update: KMAX to Begin Hauling Cargo for Marines in Afghanistan Next Month

An unmanned Kaman K-MAX helicopter was recently flown by Lockheed Martin and Kaman Aerospace Corp. demonstrating to the U.S. Army and Marine Corps how ground troops can benefit from unmanned helicopters. During the 45 minute demonstration held at Ft. Eustis, Virginia, an unmanned K-MAX helicopter performed autonomous takeoff and landing, pick-up and delivery of a 3,000 pound sling load and demonstrated how it could autonomously respond to evolving conditions and battlefield threats.

October 2011 Update: during the five-day Quick Reaction Assessment for the U.S. Navy's Cargo Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) program, the corps confirmed that the unmanned K-MAX has met and exceeded the Navy and Marines' requirement to deliver 6,000 pounds of cargo per day. Photo: Lockheed Martin

The unmanned helicopter can perform precision maneuvers at the pick up or drop zone, controlled by a single ground operator, using spoken and data commands.


“This prototype demonstration showed just a small sample of the potential for rotary wing unmanned air systems that has a lift capacity of 6,000 pounds” said Sal Bordonaro, President of Kaman Helicopters Division. “We believe this platform could be used for any number of existing missions that are currently being flown by manned assets, and that the cost saving resulting from the use of the unmanned K-MAX would be recognized immediately”.

According to Ray Wall, chief of the U.S. Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate (AATD), the U.S. Army is interested to see how industry has adapted manned/unmanned teaming technology for unmanned cargo resupply “Successful expansion of this technology into Afghanistan and Iraq would help alleviate the high operational demand for Chinook and Blackhawk helicopters, which are forces to carry supplies when their greater priority is to carry troops and other personnel” Wall said.

USMC Testing KMAX in Cargo Delivery Role

In September 2009 the Kaman Corporation has received a $0.86 million order from the U.S. Marine Corps to demonstrate the ability of the Unmanned K-MAX helicopter to deliver cargo to troops in extreme environments and at high altitudes. Teamed with Lockheed Martin, K-MAX will demonstrate the unmanned helicopter’s capability to deliver cargo a round trip distance of 150 nautical miles.

“The Unmanned K-MAX meets the Marine Corps’ urgent need to field a cargo UAS to perform the troop resupply mission currently performed by ground convoys and manned aircraft,” said Jeff Bantle, vice president of Rotary Wing Programs at Lockheed Martin Systems Integration in Owego, NY. “Lockheed Martin will provide the mission management and flight control systems to ensure performance reliability in the rigorous high altitude environmental conditions inherent to Central Asia.”

The Marine Corps objective is to move 20,000 pounds in a 24 hour period. The demonstration is scheduled for late 2009. The 5,100-pound K-MAX helicopter can lift 6,000 pounds — more than its own weight — at sea level. Superior lift performance is derived from the aircraft’s counter-rotating intermeshing rotor design that eliminates the need for a tail rotor.