Kaman K-MAX Helicopter: The Next Unmanned Platform to Assist Troops in Afghanistan?

Kaman Aerospace developed the single-engine, single-seat K-MAX helicopter, certified in 1994, to perform heavy lifting maneuvers. According to their website, this helicopter is capable of performing repetitive, external heavy-lift maneuvers where it has the ability to lift more than its own empty weight, a maximum load of 6,000 lbs. While performing heavy-lift maneuvers, the K-MAX runs as the most efficient lift-to-fuel ratio in its class of helicopters by burning 82 gallons of fuel per hour.

Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin
K-MAX Unmanned Helicopter, Photo Credit: Kaman/Lockheed Martin

In addition to the efficient heavy-lifting capabilities, the K-MAX is able to perform in high altitude and high temperature environments. The K-MAX is suited for a wide array of missions including: emergency response, delivering supplies for disaster relief, search and rescue, timber harvesting, and heavy-load construction. A variant of the K-MAX, the FIREMAX contains a 700 gallon tank developed by KAWAK Aviation Technologies, used for extinguishing fires.

Lockheed Martin Corporation and Kaman Aerospace Corporation have worked to transform the K-MAX helicopter into an unmanned aerial vehicle platform to resupply the U.S. military with cargo in war zones. According to Lockheed Martin’s website and a recent press release, approximately 400 hours of flight tests in autonomous mode have been conducted since 2007. The system is capable of lifting and delivering 6,000 lbs of cargo when flying in sea level conditions and just over 4,000 lbs at an altitude of 15,000 ft. Tests conducted at the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground, Utah in January 2010, successfully demonstrated the performance of the autonomous K-MAX in scenarios likely to be encountered in Afghanistan. Specifically, they were able to demonstrate the upload of new mission specifications while the aircraft was in flight and the use of a four-hook carousel enabling multi-load deliveries in a single flight.

Most recently, Lockheed Martin and Kaman Aerospace submitted a proposal in response to a U.S. Naval Air Systems Command request for a cargo unmanned aircraft system. With the increase in casualties from roadside bombs in war zones in Afghanistan, the use of unmanned helicopters to provide supplies to our troops at remote outposts is highly desirable. Although Lockheed Martin and Kaman Aerospace have a strongly performing system with the K-MAX, they will face some competition from Boeing’s A160T Hummingbird unmanned helicopter, which is claimed to have an endurance of 24 hours with lower weight-lifting capabilities, according to an article on CNN’s website.

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