The K-MAX cargo unmanned helicopter has impressed Marine Corps aviation leaders since the aircraft deployed to Afghanistan on Dec. 17, but the Marine Corps is not quite ready to give it the green light.
One would expect that Afghanistan would be the ultimate test for a cargo helicopter considering the heat, altitude and dust. However, Col. Doug Hardison, a Marine aviation official, said the Corps plans to put it through more testing after it completes its deployment to Afghanistan.
While a combat environment might be seen as the ultimate test, flying "real missions" means the Corps will not test the aircraft's envelope too rigorously, Hardison said. For example, the K-MAX is restricted to certain flight ceilings to avoid other aircraft flying in theater. When it returns, the Marine Corps plans to test it at different altitudes, Hardison said.
The Army will keep a close eye on those tests as the service has chosen to continue to observe the Marine's K-MAX testing rather than pursue it individually.
Lockheed Martin sent two K-MAX helicopters to southern Afghanistan that have already flown more than 250 missions. The unmanned helicopters flew over 14,000 pounds of cargo in just one day.
Lockheed Martin controllers fly almost all of the missions, but Marines have learned how they operate by watching, Matthews said. The development of the K-MAX continues, but a formal training program has not yet been developed for Marines to start flying them without the help of contractors.
The Army has not contacted Lockheed Martin to set up an agreement to lease the K-MAX to deliver cargo in Afghanistan for Army units, said Jeanine Matthews, Lockheed Martin’s business development director for Integrated Defense Technologies. Last year, engineers at the Army’s Maneuver Battle Lab held a series of user assessments on the K-MAX at Fort Benning, Ga., in the Annual Expeditionary Warrior Experiment.