The Unmanned K-MAX helicopter being developed by Kaman Corporation and Lockheed Martin has further demonstrated the potential of this type of aircraft in the field by completing a list of airdrop firsts. The milestones in payload weight and altitude were reached during a recent series of tests at the Army's Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona where the KMAX UAS made guided airdrops via sling load at an altitude of 10,000 ft above sea level including a payload of 4,400 lbs. The K-MAX unmanned aircraft system (UAS) is based on Kaman's single-seat vertical-lift helicopter which was certified in 1994. The design has no tail rotor, instead using twin counter-rotating, intermeshing main rotors. The advantage of this approach is that without a tail rotor drive system, all engine power is directed to the main rotors to maximize lift. The piloted K-Max can more than its own 6,000 pound weight.

The single seat has been retained for the unmanned version and Lockheed Martin says it will remain "optionally piloted" to give it the flexibility of performing the occasional manned mission. Having a pilot onboard also its advantages for testing of the autonomous control system.

The Unmanned K-MAX airdropped 16 payloads during the recent tests. In addition to the milestones in payload weight and altitude, the aircraft also achieved the first airdrop of four guided Joint Precision Aerial Delivery Systems (JPADS) from a sling load, the first helicopter sling load airdrop for the High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) parachute system and a demonstration of non-line-of-sight re-targeting using JPADS.

The Unmanned K-MAX is being developed for battlefield cargo resupply with the goal of removing the need for ground convoys which require large numbers of troops to support them.

"Ten years from now there will be fleets of fully-autonomous cargo aircraft operating probably worldwide," says Garf Cooper, Flight test director for the Unmanned K-MAX program.

The following video from Lockheed Martin provides an overview of the K-MAX UAS:

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