K-MAX on a Hot Streak

Marines conduct successful “hot hookup” using K-MAX unmanned cargo helicopter

K-MAX The K-MAX unmanned cargo helicopter recorded another milestone in May, successfully conducting the first “hot hookup” between Marines on the ground and the hovering unmanned aircraft in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. Photo courtesy DVIDS.

The K-MAX unmanned cargo helicopter continues to perform beyond expectation as the U.S. Marines begin the second deployment of the aircraft in-theater.

Developed by Lockheed Martin and Kaman Aerospace, K-MAX became the first unmanned helicopter to deliver cargo to U.S. Marines in Afghanistan late last year. In May, K-MAX recorded another highlight, conducting the first “hot hookup” between Marines on the ground and the hovering unmanned aircraft in Helmand province, according to a May 30 article on the Marines’ website.

“This was particularly important because it was a milestone in unmanned aviation,” said Maj. John Norton, the officer in charge of Cargo Resupply Unmanned Aircraft Systems with Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2. “It’s a stepping stone to increasing our capabilities in the unmanned aviation spectrum.

“[The traditional method of external lifting] takes time and requires more personnel to operate,” Norton added. “With a hot hookup from the hover, we’re able to come into the zone more expeditiously, which gives us more time to go forward with the fuel supply on the aircraft.”

K-MAX protects soldiers by reducing the number of truck resupply convoys and their troop escorts,  frequent targets of improvised explosive devises (IEDs) and insurgent attacks.  On the first night of hot hookups, the Marines moved nearly 6,000 pounds. In its six months of operation, the two K-MAX unmanned aircraft have delivered more than one million pounds of cargo.

K-MAX also made news in April when the aircraft performed a successful beacon demonstration. The flight was part of a $47 million contract, awarded last summer by the Army to look into expanded uses of unmanned systems and technologies.  As part of the beacon demonstration, K-MAX made 10 precise autonomous cargo drops to pre-programmed coordinates, delivering each within the three meter target range.

The beacons improve accuracy, allowing K-MAX to deliver cargo as large as a compact car to remote sites with pinpoint accuracy, even at night or in harsh weather. K-MAX also performed a precision landing without the beacon, with similarly exact results. 

K-MAX features Kaman’s proven high-altitude, heavy-lift K-1200 airframe and Lockheed Martin’s mission management and control systems. The helicopter can fly day or night over large distances and at higher altitudes with a larger payload than any other rotary wing unmanned aerial system.

Posted June 13, 2012