Kaman Aerospace (Booth 4904) is advancing its military and commercial K-Max unmanned aerial system (UAS)—an autonomously flown version of the K-Max utility helicopter, the company reported Tuesday at Heli-Expo 2020.
The UAS K-Max proved itself in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom, where the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) deployed two of the platforms to supply forward bases. In two years in theater, the autonomously flown heavy haulers delivered more than 4.5 million pounds of cargo—the equivalent load of 900 convoy vehicles—while boasting a 95 percent mission readiness rate.
Taken out of service after the conflict ended, Kaman is updating those two helicopters under a U.S. Navy contract to “leverage advancements in unmanned technologies, and add new autonomy capabilities,” said Romin Dasmalchi, Kaman Air Vehicle’s senior director of business development.
In parallel with the military project, Kaman is developing a new K-Max UAS kit for commercial applications, with first flight slated for the third quarter. Kit deliveries to launch customers Georgia-based Helicopter Express and Oregon’s Swanson Group Aviation are scheduled for 2021.
The UAS kit—which allows for pilotless operations and can be installed or removed in about an hour—will be available for both legacy and new K-Maxes. As a UAS, the K-Max has a mission radius greater than 100 miles and is able to operate at night and conditions too risky for manned operations, according to Kaman
Swanson Group general manager Steven Athanas, formerly an Army helicopter pilot who flew in Afghanistan, led the K-Max UAS program during the conflict. “The Marines in Afghanistan did not believe in the concept,” he said. “They said this is never going to work.”
The Marines ultimately credited the UAS deliveries with saving an estimated 48 lives of soldiers who would have perished in equivalent ground convoy deliveries. At a Kaman ceremony this week at Heli-Expo marking the commercial orders, Athanas called the UAS K-Max “the wave of the future.”
Developed by company founder and former CEO Charlie Kaman for logging operations, the K-Max features a pair of counterrotating props; their counteracting forces eliminate the need for a tail rotor, and is designed around an external hoist capable of lifting up to 6,000 pounds.