In what could prove a significant improvement to the U.S. military's ability to move fast and far over tough terrain, Lockheed Martin and Kaman Aerospace say they have demonstrated the ability to use a unmanned helicopter to resupply in conditions similar to an FOB in Afghanistan.
"During a series of flights last week in subfreezing temperatures at the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground, UT, the Unmanned K-MAX demonstrated autonomous and remote control flight over both line-of-sight and satellite-based beyond line-of-sight data link," according to a press release.
“We met or exceeded the requirements within the scheduled three-day timeframe of the demonstration,” Dan Spoor, Lockheed's president of aviation systems at Mission Systems & Sensors, said in the release. “The system performed a rigorous set of cargo resupply scenarios as programmed, allowing the ground-based operator to monitor progress, and make adjustments to aircraft positioning only when requested by the Marine Corps for demonstration purposes.”
The helo hovered at 12,000 ft. with a 1,500-pound sling load and delivered 3,000 pounds of cargo well within the six-hour required timeframe to a forward operating base (two 150 nm round-trip flights). It operated during the day and at night and the testers reprogrammed it in flight.
They also used a four-hook carousel, which enables multi-load deliveries in a single flight. The helo lifted 3,450 pounds, flew to three different sites and released a sling load at each spot. The Marines wanted the fourth load done by a ground operator. It was.
"This capability gives the Marine Corps a proven unmanned power lifter to bring vital cargo to troops on the battlefield without the need for ground vehicles and manned helicopters," Sal Bordonaro, president of Kaman Helicopters, said in the release.
Boeing has a similar capability under development, called the A160 Hummingbird. The unmanned version is being developed in response to an RFI from the Marine Warfighting Lab issued early last year.
A lab spokesman declined comment. We hope to get some video of this test soon.