K-Max Proves Unmanned Heli-Lift in Afghanistan

 - April 20, 2012, 2:15 PM
Two unmanned K-Max helicopters deployed to Afghanistan late last year for a military user evaluation are performing well, according to contractor Lockheed Martin. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

The two K-Max unmanned helicopters deployed to Afghanistan late last year by the U.S. Marine Corps are performing well, according to contractor Lockheed Martin. The unmanned K-Max carries underslung loads, and was developed from the Kaman Aerospace intermeshing-rotor design intended for piloted forestry and firefighting work.

“We’re really showing that the K-Max can provide an unmanned logistics resupply capability. We’re hoping the U.S. military will want more helicopters,” said Jim Naylor, business development director for Lockheed Martin’s MS2 division in Owego, N.Y., which designed the autonomous control and mission management system. Lockheed Martin said the K-Max achieved a 100-percent mission capability rate in March and is clocking 0.8 maintenance man-hours per flight hour. The cost of maintenance is less than the “advertised” price of $1,200 per hour, said Naylor.

Following a quick reaction assessment last August in Yuma, Ariz., the Naval Air Systems Command (Navair) awarded Lockheed Martin a six-month, $46 million contract to deliver the K-Max to Afghanistan for assessment by the Marines. The Navair contract runs into June, with an option to extend that time.

The K-Max carried its first external load in Afghanistan on December 17 and since then has delivered more than 750,000 pounds (340,194 kg) of cargo during 230 missions. Naylor said the Marines are flying five or six missions a day, using the K-Max to deliver food, water and munitions from a main operating base to two forward operating bases (FOBs). The Marines are on site dropping the loads at the FOBs, although the helicopter can operate autonomously, Naylor said. Lockheed Martin is maintaining the aircraft, with assistance from the Marines.

The 6,000-pound (2,721-kg) helicopter can lift its own weight at sea level and 4,300 pounds (1,950 kg) at an altitude of 15,000 feet, Naylor said. In Afghanistan, the K-Max has delivered more than 14,000 total pounds on some days and has demonstrated the capability to carry a generator weighing 4,300 pounds in a single lift. Naylor said the aircraft’s performance has generated a “tremendous amount of interest” among potential foreign customers, which he described as NATO countries.