Kaman K-MAX Helicopter Makes First Unmanned Combat Flight

The unmanned Kaman K-MAX helicopter has successfully completed its first combat resupply mission in Afghanistan. The aircraft, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Kaman Aerospace is no drone–it was designed as a safer means of resupplying troops on the front line with over 6,000 pounds worth of supplies at a time.

Development on the K-MAX began as a response to the large number of casualties sustained in the vehicle convoys that have traditionally been used to supply troops. Road convoys must travel along well-known routes, making them vulnerable to ambush or improvised explosive devices.

Marine Capt. Caleb Joiner, mission commander, explained that by conducting missions at night and flying at higher altitudes the K-MAX can stay outside of small arms range.

Why use an unmanned helicopter where human-piloted aircraft have performed perfectly well in the past? Aside from eliminating the risk to personnel on resupply missions, shedding the human component saves the weight of controls and the space that would be needed to accommodate crew members. The K-MAX is designed purely to deliver cargo, not to carry and protect any human occupants. That makes for a helicopter that can do more with a smaller footprint.

At present, the United States Marine Corps is testing two Kaman K-MAX helicopters in Afghanistan. Should they prove successful, which they have thus far, we can expect to see quite a few more.

Photo: Aviation Week