History in the Making

K-MAX unmanned cargo helicopter makes first delivery to resupply Afghanistan forward operating base

Orville Wright was the first man to fly a powered airplane when the Wright Flyer lifted off in 1903. Chuck Yeager became the first pilot to break the sound barrier in the Bell X-1.

When the U.S. Marines’ K-MAX recently became the first unmanned cargo helicopter to deliver supplies in theater, no pilot stepped out of the cockpit and into the history books. And that is exactly the point.

Under a $45.8 million contract with the Navy, Lockheed Martin and Kaman Aerospace developed two unmanned K-MAX helicopters to make it safer to resupply troops at forward operating bases in Afghanistan.

During its historic 90-minute flight last month, K-MAX successfully delivered about 3,500 pounds of food and supplies to troops at Combat Outpost Payne without risking a pilot or truck driver to enemy attack or an accident.

“We delivered cargo (Dec. 17) that was supposed to be delivered by convoy, now that convoy has three pallets that it does not have to carry,” said Maj. Kyle O’Connor, the officer-in-charge of the mission in  an article  appearing on the Defense Imagery and Distribution System website.

IED attacks in Afghanistan have increased steadily since 2005, soaring to 14,661 in 2010, according to the Joint IED Defeat Organization.  The Navy and Army are looking at K-MAX to reduce the need for convoys.  In addition to the Navy contract, the Army awarded Lockheed Martin and Kaman a $47 million contract earlier this year to develop, demonstrate and deliver autonomous air system technologies in support of cargo missions using K-MAX.

K-MAX features Kaman’s proven high-altitude, heavy-lift K-1200 airframe and Lockheed Martin’s mission management and control systems, enabling autonomous flight in remote environments over large distances. The helicopter can fly day or night and at higher altitudes with a larger payload than any other rotary wing unmanned aerial system. With its four-hook carousel, K-MAX can also supply multiple locations in one flight.

The first flight is part of a six-month assessment period after which the Marine Corps will decide whether or not to fully implement K-MAX.

Posted January 3, 2012

file During its historic 90-minute flight Dec. 17, the Lockheed Martin-Kaman Aerospace K-MAX unmanned cargo helicopter successfully delivered about 3,500 pounds of food and supplies to U.S. Marines at Combat Outpost Payne. Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy.