U.S. Marines trail-blazing K-MAX returns home
By Defense Systems
Aug. 5, 2014, Washington, D.C. - On Dec. 17, 2011, an unmanned K-MAX helicopter delivered roughly 3,500 pounds of food and supplies from Camp Dwyer to Combat Outpost Payne in Afghanistan, its first mission in what was planned to be a six-month assessment.
By Defense Systems
Two and a half years and several
million pounds of food, water, ammunition and other supplies later, two
K-MAX helicopters were recently decommissioned by the Marine Corps and
sent back to the States to be put into storage.
What’s next is up in the air for a
helicopter that proved to be something of a breakthrough for the
military’s unmanned aerial systems.
The K-MAX originally was built by Kaman
Aerospace as a manned aircraft to be used in logging. Lockheed Martin
adapted it for manned or unmanned use—being flown remotely or even
autonomously via GPS if given a clear destination—and gave it the
ability to haul up to 6,000 pounds at a time. After several years of
demonstrations and tests, two of the retrofitted K-MAX helicopters
arrived in Afghanistan in November 2011 and one completed that first mission a month later.
At first, the Marines were unsure how
well the K-MAX would work out. Drones had proved efficient for
surveillance and attack, but logistics support was another story. Some in the military had doubts
about whether unmanned systems were suitable for cargo hauling, citing,
among other things, the K-MAX’s size (larger than the Apache Longbow
attack helicopter) and its load-bearing limits compared with other those
of tactical delivery vehicles.
But the K-MAX also had its advantages.
It could fly for up to 12 hours at a time, operate day or night and in
some weather conditions unsuitable for manned flight, and, importantly,
keep Marines and ground vehicles off of IED-littered roads and manned
aircraft away from enemy fire. When one K-MAX crashed in June 2013 while making an autonomous delivery, no one was injured. Another K-MAX took its place.