K-Max unmanned aircraft invaluable for U.S. marines

Miami Herald
May 08, 2013
By Miami Herald
k-maxMay 8, 2013, Camp Bastion, Afghanistan – In January a small group of U.S. Marines at a remote base near the village of Shurakay in northern Helmand province was running low on ammunition after fighting fiercely for days. The road in was too dangerous for a resupply convoy, and there were so many Taliban fighters that a helicopter crew trying to fly in would have been at serious risk.

Still, the Marines soon heard the soft thwack of rotor blades. They looked up as a glimpse into the future of aviation eased into a hover, then gently descended until a pallet of ammunition dangling beneath it touched the ground. The cargo hook released itself and the unmanned K-MAX helicopter rose again, turned and flew off.

The K-MAX, which is the only drone cargo helicopter in the U.S. military’s fleet, made two more runs to the embattled outpost, dropping off more supplies each time.

It wasn’t a stunt: Over the past 16 months, two K-MAX helicopters that were sent to Afghanistan as an experiment have delivered 3.2 millions of pounds of cargo across Helmand and flown more than 1,000 missions. That’s reduced the number of supply convoys needed on the province’s bomb-infested roads, eased the workload and risk for helicopter and Osprey crews, saved money and provided real-world proof that drones are practical for much more than surveillance and missile strikes.

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