Kaman K-MAX. Photo courtesy of Kaman
Kaman Aerosystems cleared many hurdles over the course of seven years to re-develop the market for the K-MAX and deliver the first of two new-build version of that unique aerial truck to a first-time customer in a nascent market, China.
“Today, we’re not just celebrating the delivery of two new aircraft,” said Neal Keating, chairman, president and CEO of the OEM’s parent, Kaman Corp. “We’re celebrating the opportunity to deepen a relationship with China and look forward to the future growth of that relationship.”
Keating spoke Thursday at a ceremony at Kaman’s Bloomfield, Connecticut, headquarters complex to deliver the first of two new counter-rotating, intermeshing rotor, vertical-reference helicopters to Lectern Aviation Supplies Co.
Lectern plans to deliver the K-MAX twins to Guangdong Juxiang General Aviation, an operator based in Shenzhen in the southeast coastal Chinese province of Guangdong and one slated to perform firefighting missions for the Chinese government with the new helicopters.
The single-engine, single-seat K-MAX is optimized for external load operations and designed specifically for vertical reference flight. The aircraft can lift up to 6,000 pounds.
Keating, Kaman Aerospace Group President Greg Steiner and other Kaman executives, including Drake Klotzman, general manager of Kaman Aerospace’s Air Vehicles and Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul unit, described some of the challenges of rebuilding the K-MAX market, restarting its production line and completing the first aircraft for the Chinese market. Kaman spent seven years pursuing the sale to Lectern.
Referring to company founder Charles Kaman (who died in 2011), Klotzman said, “Charlie famously said that one of the first steps in any new endeavor is overcoming the discouraging advice of those who say it couldn’t be done."
There was a long list of challenges envisioned by naysayers, he said. “Some that were never to occur, and some that have been overcome by perseverance and hard work, and some that no one could have predicted.”
He noted, “This accomplishment and the credit for it is not mine. Another of Charlie’s guiding principles was, ‘No one person can outperform a good team. And what a great team we have.’”
That team included the company’s top executives, who in 2015 signed off on restarting new K-MAX production (which had stopped in 2003) with approval to build 10 and extended the line earlier this year, Kaman’s workers and suppliers and the FAA.
“The FAA offices here and in Boston helped us re-learn how to be a production certificate holder,” Klotzman said. “Last week, we were granted the amendment to our production certificate to produce the aircraft.”
The Kaman executives included as members of that “great team” Lectern, Guangdong Juxiang, Aviation Industry Corp. of China and the Civil Aviation Admin. of China (CAAC), that nation’s FAA. Kaman officials said their engineers sat side by side with CAAC officials as the agency worked to issue a validation of the FAA type certificate for the K-MAX. The aircraft at the ceremony bore the U.S. registration N995KA; Kaman officials said they expect to receive the Chinese validation shortly.
The second Lectern K-MAX is nearing delivery, Kaman officials said. The two delivered aircraft will be disassembled and transported by air to China for re-assembly and an airworthiness check by the CAAC. That is targeted for August.
Other challenges remain for Kaman, not the least of which is finding a helicopter pilot with vertical-reference experience who speaks Mandarin who can support Guangdong Juxiang’s operations. A Chinese mechanic is training at Kaman now, and two Guangdong Juxiang pilots are soon to start flight training. (A CAAC pilot is also to begin K-MAX ground school.)
In the meantime, Kaman is working with longtime K-MAX operator Swanson Group Aviation of Glendale, Oregon. Swanson plans to have pilots and mechanics in China to support the initial Guangdong Juxiang operations. Swanson operates the fleet leader K-MAX, with more than 25,000 flight hours.
“It is currently out fighting wild fires in California,” said Terry Fogarty, Kaman’s manager of K-MAX business development. “That’s one busy helicopter.”
He said the K-MAX fleet has accumulated more than 340,000 flight hours since certification in 1994.