No pilot needed

May 17, 2011 by Tim McAdams

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.

  • Kris Sundberg

    The technology is fantastic. In terms of future employment opportunities for pilots, well that’s another matter. This technology is going to have a bigger effect on the industry and much sooner than battery-powered helos (if ever).

  • Herb Gregory

    I can only see one rotor mast in the picture. This looks to me like counter rotating rotor blades as opposed to the old {60’s} Kaman H43. with two separate rotor masts and true intermeshing blades. Correct me if I am wrong. thanks.

  • Jason S

    The two masts on a K-MAX are very close together. Closer than the H43 masts were. See the photo link I included for a head-on pic of this unique machine.

  • Jason S

    Darn thing doesn’t want to let me post a link in the message body. If it doesn’t appear this time, click the above post where it says “Jason S” or just go a google image search for K-MAX – you’ll find head-on pics of the K-MAX there.

  • pdxpilot

    Cool idea – this is competing against Boeing’s Hummingbird – an aircraft that can lift less however one that was built to be unmanned on Day 1.

  • Pogue

    You’ll notice that while autonomous flight is possible, someone on the ground still takes control. I’m guessing that just as with the fixed wing UAV’s there will be a certificated pilot in control while in public airspace. He or she will just be on the ground.

  • Alex Kovnat

    Would it be possible for the Kaman engineering staff to fit a pusher propeller at the rear, like the Sikorsky X-2?

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