The U.S. Army will test Kaman’s K-Max unmanned coaxial helicopter in two trials over the coming months, said Terry Fogarty, general manager of Kaman Aerospace’s UAS product group, speaking at Farnborough Airshow.
The first autonomous technologies trial will take place next week (end of July) at Fort Benning, Ga., with the U.S. Army’s Aviation Applied Technology Directorate (AATD). Although there have been prior demonstrations of the K-Max’s capability, this exercise, conducted through technology lead Lockheed Martin, will show that the aircraft can autonomously locate and hook-up to its cargo, then return it to another location (called autonomous retrograde capability).
USMC pilot walking away from the unmanned K-Max operating in Afghanistan. The sole remaining aircraft (there were two but one crashed) was withdrawn in July this year. Photo courtesy USMC/DoD
A second trial, to be conducted around the second week of August, will see the unmanned K-Max deploy then collect a Lockheed squad mission support system (SMSS), an unmanned ground vehicle. “Simply put, it’s a robot moving a robot,” said Fogerty, although he emphasized the UAS technology involved in both systems was far in advance of that description. Two days of practice would precede the actual test.
The K-Max that had been operating with the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) in Afghanistan in an un-manned cargo role for around three years left the country in early July. Fogarty said that the Marine operators that had used the platform continuous were impressed by its operation, but the way forward now is uncertain as there is no program of record to take the results of this long trail forward as a capability.
However, Fogerty said that there was another opportunity with the USMC in demonstrating ship-board capability, whether that would be manned or unmanned or a mixture.
Kaman has already announced an intention to reopen the K-Max production line dependent on confirmed responses from industry. There is civilian demand for the aircraft, of which less than 40 were ever built, and the company retained all the manufacturing machinery just in case of this possibility.
If Kaman can commit to reopen production, it would give potential military customers added confidence when considering this resurgent helicopter.