The Kaman K-MAX helicopter is one of the few helicopters with intermeshing main rotors systems. It was built specifically for external load operations and is able to lift over 6,000 pounds, which is more than the helicopter’s empty weight. The K-MAX is used for repetitive lift operations by commercial operators for the construction and logging industries. To date, 35 have been built and the fleet has accumulated more than 255,000 flight hours since 1994. It is now finding a new unmanned role with the US Military.
Lockheed Martin Corporation and Kaman Aerospace Corporation have teamed to build an unmanned remote-control version of the helicopter. The primary mission is for use in combat to deliver supplies to the battlefield. However, there are plans to offer the aircraft for civilian situations involving chemical, biological, or radiological hazards.
The team has flown the unmanned K-MAX nearly 400 hours in autonomous mode since joining forces in 2007. The system can lift and deliver its full 6,000 lbs of cargo at sea level and more than 4,000 pounds at 15,000 ft density altitude. Using preprogrammed GPS waypoints it can drop supplies at four remote locations before returning to base. It has a range of 270 nautical miles. An entire mission can be done autonomously with no one controlling the aircraft other than the person who programmed the mission before hand or it can fly to a waypoint where a person on the ground takes control. Programmers can enter a variety of data into each mission, including locations of likely threats and an emergency go-to point. Operators can also take control at any time during flight to reroute it. The aircraft will retain its ability to fly with a pilot for ease of operation in the National Airspace System and to maintain manned mission flexibility.