Team demonstrates unmanned helicopter missions

February 9, 2010

Lockheed Martin Corporation and Kaman Aerospace Corporation (Team K-MAX) have successfully demonstrated to the U.S. Marine Corps the capability of the unmanned K-MAX helicopter to resupply troops at forward operating bases in Afghanistan. During a series of flights in subfreezing temperatures at the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, the unmanned K-MAX demonstrated autonomous and remote-control flight over both line-of-sight and satellite-based datalink.

The unmanned K-MAX is a derivative of Kaman’s single-engine, twin intermeshing rotor heavy lift helicopter. Powered by a single Honeywell 1,800-hp T53-17 engine, this unique helicopter is able to lift a payload of more than 6,000 pounds, which is more than the helicopter’s empty weight. The unmanned version was developed for hazardous military missions or civilian situations involving chemical, biological, or radiological hazards.

“We met or exceeded the requirements within the scheduled three-day timeframe of the demonstration,” said Dan Spoor, Aviation Systems vice president at Lockheed Martin’s Mission Systems and Sensors facility in Owego, N.Y. “The system performed a rigorous set of cargo resupply scenarios as programmed, allowing the ground-based operator to monitor progress and make adjustments to aircraft positioning only when requested by the Marine Corps for demonstration purposes.”

The flight demonstration included hovering at 12,000 feet with a 1,500-pound sling load, delivering 3,000 pounds of cargo within the six-hour required timeframe to a forward operating base (two 150 nm round-trip flights) and a precision load delivery by a ground-based operator in both day and night conditions. In addition, new mission plans can be uploaded to the aircraft’s mission management system during flight.

Team K-MAX also demonstrated the unmanned K-MAX helicopter’s four-hook carousel, which enables multi-load deliveries in a single flight. Lifting a total cargo of 3,450 pounds, the aircraft flew to three pre-programmed delivery coordinates, autonomously releasing a sling load at each location. At the customer’s request, the fourth load delivery was performed under manual control by a ground operator.

Team K-MAX has flown the unmanned K-MAX nearly 400 hours in unmanned mode since 2007. This demonstration fulfilled an $860,000 U.S. Marine Corps contract awarded to K-MAX manufacturer Kaman Aerospace in August 2009.