Kaman is moving toward restarting deliveries next year of its unique, intermeshing-rotor K-Max, following receipt of new orders in 2015. At Booth 8137, the company will brief existing and potential customers on the restart, as well as Kaman and Lockheed Martin’s efforts to sell their Unmanned K-Max as a firefighting platform. We asked Kaman’s program business director, Terry Fogarty, about the K-Max.
With the restart of production, what is new about the K-Max?
Since we last produced this helicopter in 2003, we’ve learned some things about lean manufacturing techniques that we are incorporating into production. We will be addressing some issues of obsolescence with the design—upgrading radios and transponders, for instance.
But essentially, the aircraft is not changing. It is the proven utility performer that operators have been flying for more than 20 years. The design has stood the test of time.
What prompted the decision to restart production?
There were a couple of factors that led to the decision. One was the fact that we had interest from current K-Max operators—Helicopter Express in the U.S. and Rotex Helicopter of Switzerland—in acquiring new aircraft. That interest was in the form of new orders.
We also had interest from the U.S. Forest Service and the Interior Dept. in the potential of the Unmanned K-Max as a wildland firefighting platform.
Our decision to relaunch production was affirmed later in the year when we received an order for two K-Max’s from Lectern Aviation in Hong Kong for delivery next year. Those aircraft are intended for firefighting duties with China’s forestry department.
We are seeing a lot of interest in the K-Max, and I am working to put together a production run of years.
What is the status of the Unmanned K-Max?
Six or so years ago, we worked with Lockheed Martin to develop the unmanned version of the K-Max for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Cargo Resupply Unmanned Aerial System requirement.
The Marines extended the Unmanned K-MAX’s mission in Afghanistan more than once. It flew there nearly three years and carried millions of pounds of cargo in thousands of delivery missions. The resupply mission remains and flying it with unmanned aircraft keeps troops out of harm’s way, both in aircraft and in ground convoys. So there’s value there.
There’s clearly value outside of combat. Last October, we and Lockheed Martin took the Unmanned K-Max to Boise, Idaho, which is headquarters of the U.S. National Interagency Fire Center. There we again demonstrated the firefighting capability of the Unmanned K-Max, particularly its potential paired with a “spotter” unmanned aircraft, to the Forest Service and the Interior Dept.
In November, we joined in teaming an Unmanned K-Max with the fixed-wing Stalker XE unmanned aircraft Lockheed Martin builds in another firefighting demonstration in Rome, N.Y. Rome was where, in 2014, we first demonstrated the Unmanned K-Max’s firefighting potential.
We and Lockheed Martin are continuing to discuss that potential—particularly the potential for flying against fires at night, when manned aircraft can’t fly—with those government agencies and what would be needed, in terms of enhancements and funding, to bring it to the field.