Drone Helos the Only Choppers on Display at MDM '11

The only helos on display at this years' Modern Day Marine expo at Marine Corps Base Quantico reflect constant need for supply and intel for troops on the ground – be they Leathernecks or GI Joes.

One, the K-MAX, is a battleship gray, cargo-carrying aircraft designed to fly sans pilot, though there’s a cockpit in place the event that human touch is desired or needed. Further along the midway is a small, sleek black Boeing A160 Hummingbird helo (shown above).

There’s no cockpit in this chopper, which is being used as a stealthy eye in the sky.

“It’s completely unmanned, completely autonomous,” said Mansik Johng of Boeing, which picked up the program when it bought the company originally developing under DARPA funding it in 2004. “It can stay [aloft] about 18.7 hours. In fact, it set a world record for endurance for this class of vehicle.”

A primary customer is Special Operations Command, which has plans to acquire up to 20 of the black birds up through 2017, though the company also has a $30 million contract to supply two to Naval Air Systems Command, Johng said.

The company is preparing an unspecified number of Hummingbirds for their first deployment to Afghanistan in the coming year.

“It can carry different payloads,” he said, pointing out the Hellfire missiles mock-up on the Quantico display. “But primarily this is more of an ISR aircraft.”

Meanwhile, the K-MAX (shown above) is described as “a workhorse” that will ferry supplies and material out to combat forces in the field.

K-MAX is a Kaman Aircraft helicopter. The company has partnered up with Lockheed Martin to fully develop the helo as an autonomous or remotely controlled aircraft. Lockheed said it made a good showing of its capabilities a year ago, when a K-MAX carried more than 3,000 pounds of cargo to three pre-programmed delivery coordinates, delivering the cargo by sling autonomously, during a demonstration for the Marine Corps at the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah.

The Corps intends to pick up three of the aircraft for use in Afghanistan, according to reports. Lockheed spokeswoman Alexandra Wildfong said the K-MAX completed a required a Quick Reaction Assessment recently out in Arizona.

“We are currently waiting on a decision whether we’re going to deploy these in theater,” she said.

-- Bryant Jordan

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