Lockheed Martin and Kaman Aerospace Corporation have transformed a 6,000lb power lifting K-MAX helicopter into an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and successfully tested airdropping cargo by parachute to simulate resupplying troops in the field. The test involved cargo airdrops from 300ft-400ft using a four-hook carousel during one flight, demonstrating how the UAV could conduct four drops in a single mission.

A total of 11 cargo airdrop tests were conducted using the Army’s low cost low altitude cross parachute at Kaman’s Bloomfield, Connecticut, facility in partnership with the US Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC). The one-time-use expendable aerodynamic decelerators cost about US$375 each. These parachutes are currently in service in Afghanistan, where they are deployed from manned aircraft. They are designed to carry between 80-600lbs from a height of 150-300ft.

“These airdrop tests continue our progress to advance the Unmanned K-MAX helicopter as a battlefield cargo delivery system,” said Terry Fogarty, general manager of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Product Group at Kaman Helicopters. “Airdropping cargo as an option to placing a sling load on the ground can enhance an unmanned aircraft’s survivability while delivering critical supplies in combat environments.”

“The demonstration exceeded our expectations” said Richard Benney, an Army division leader, Aerial Delivery Equipment and Systems Division. “This capability will save lives, allowing us to deliver supplies to our troops using unmanned helicopters, while also avoiding the threat to the delivery platform in high-threat areas.”

During the demonstration, the team showed autonomous and remote control sling load delivery over both line-of-sight and satellite-base beyond-line-of-sight data links.

Kaman says future tests may include the use of single and/or multiple Joint Precision Airdrop Systems (JPADS) from higher altitudes. These would prove invaluable in higher threat environments where low-level flying is too risky.

The Kaman-designed K-MAX helicopter can deliver sling loads up to 6,000lbs at sea level, and 4,300lbs at 15,000ft, (much greater than Boeing's Hummingbird UAV with a 2,500lb carrying capacity), while Lockheed Martin’s mission management and control systems give the K-MAX helicopter unparalleled flight autonomy in remote environments and over large distances, like those experienced in war zones.

“Autonomous flight will enable military users to fly the unmanned K-MAX helicopter in day or night conditions,” said Dan Spoor, Aviation Systems vice president at Lockheed Martin’s Mission Systems & Sensors facility in Owego, New York. “Adding an airdrop capability to the system gives the Army or Marines another resupply option.”

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