Despite what has mostly been a lukewarm response by the Army, at least in public, Lockheed Martin is not giving up its dream of a fleet of green K-MAX cargo helicopters.
The company announced Monday that K-MAX is doing well in a series of tests as part of a demonstration contract awarded last year. Specifically, the unmanned helo was able to make a series of deliveries and to test out a new set of beacons that help the aircraft find its way. Per Lockheed:
The U.S. Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate ran a beacon navigation demonstration on April 17, requiring the K-MAX to make ten precise autonomous cargo drops to pre-programmed coordinates. The results were outstanding – all ten deliveries were made within the threshold three meters, and two drops were made within the one meter objective designated zone. K-MAX also performed a precision landing without the beacon, with similarly exact results.Lockheed probably hopes September is not the end of the line for K-MAX or unmanned cargo helicopters in Afghanistan, but whatever happens with the Marines, there are still some Army milestones down the road. Monday's announcement said the company will make two more big demonstrations in April 2013 and January 2014, so there's more time for officials to keep making their sales pitch.
The beacons provide K-MAX with improved accuracy, allowing the aircraft to deliver critical cargo to remote sites within three meters of the designated drop-off point. Deliveries of cargo as large as a compact car can be placed down with pinpoint accuracy, even at night or in harsh weather.
Two unmanned K-MAX are currently deployed in Afghanistan and have surpassed the one-million pound mark in cargo lifted, by aircraft boasting more than 95 percent mission capability. This beacon demonstration provides the Marines additional data as they continue to explore the tremendous utility of the K-MAX. The beacons will be fielded with the Marines, who recently extended the deployment of the aircraft from June to September 2012.