Lockheed Martin Delivers Unmanned K-Max Helicopter for Evaluation

 - July 18, 2011, 5:20 AM
The K-Max is one of two contenders for an unmanned cargo lifting requirement developed by the U.S. Marine Corps. (Photo: Chris Pocock)

Lockheed Martin flew a K-Max helicopter to NAS Patuxent River to start an evaluation that will result in an unmanned airborne cargo delivery system being deployed to Afghanistan. The K-Max is competing against the Boeing A160 Hummingbird for a U.S. Marine Corps requirement. Lockheed Martin’s MS2 division has adapted two examples of the Kaman rotorcraft, which was originally designed to haul logs from forests and to fight fires, as an optionally piloted vehicle.

According to Dan Spoor, vice president of MS2, the K-Max has the advantage over the A160 in terms of payload (it can haul 6,000 pounds at sea level) and operating cost ($1,000 per hour). He told AIN that delivery by an unmanned helicopter can save lives when improvised explosive devices (IEDs) threaten a ground convoy, and is also more flexible. It can also overcome the physical difficulties of resupplying remote bases located in difficult terrain.

Lockheed Martin describes the K-Max as rugged and simple. The helicopter has contra-rotating blades, eliminating the need for a tailrotor. The 1,800-shp engine is limited by the transmission to 1,350 shp, thus providing a thermodynamic reserve that can be exploited to provide extra lift at higher altitudes (among other things). In addition to the new onboard computer and a ground control station, Lockheed Martin is providing mission-planning software and training support.

The main evaluation of the K-Max and the A160 will take place at Yuma Proving Ground from next month. Deployment of the winning contender could occur by year-end. The U.S. Army has also expressed an interest in the K-Max, according to Lockheed Martin.