Unmanned Kaman K-Max makes autonomous flight

 - March 30, 2010, 11:21 AM

Kaman and Lockheed Martin (Team K-Max) have demonstrated the ability of an unmanned Kaman K-Max to fly troop cargo re-supply missions autonomously and remotely via line-of-sight and satellite-based line-of-sight datalink. The tests
were performed at the U.S. Army’s Dugway, Utah proving grounds under subfreezing weather conditions designed to mimic those likely to be encountered under combat conditions at forward bases in Afghanistan. The test was funded by the Marine Corps. “We met or exceeded the requirements within the scheduled three-day time frame of the demonstration,” said Dan Spoor, aviation systems vice president at Lockheed Martin’s mission systems 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.”

Demonstrated performance included hovering at 12,000 feet with a 1,500-pound sling load; delivering 3,000 pounds of cargo to a forward operating base within the six-hour required time frame, consisting of two 150-nm round-trip flights; remotely controlling the flight and a precision load delivery by a ground-based operator in both day and night conditions; and uploading a new mission plan to the aircraft’s mission management system during flight.

The project also demonstrated the helicopter’s four-hook carousel, which enables multi-load deliveries in a single flight, lifting a total load of 3,450 pounds. The aircraft flew to three pre-programmed delivery coordinates, autonomously releasing a sling load at each location. At the Marines’ request, the ground operator performed the fourth load delivery manually.

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 manufacturer Kaman Aerospace in August 2009.

A manned version of the K-Max has accumulated more than 250,000 flight hours, conducting repetitive lift operations for the construction and logging industries worldwide.