Kaman Aerospace Corporation has proven in recent tests that the unmanned K-MAX helicopter can resupply troops with cargo airdropped by parachute.
The tests add a new delivery method for the 6,000-pound power lifter, which Lockheed Martin and Kaman have successfully transformed into an unmanned aircraft system for autonomous cargo delivery operations.
At its Bloomfield, Conn., facility in late April, Kaman, in partnership with the U.S. Army's Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC), conducted 11 cargo airdrop tests from 300 ft. to 400 ft. above ground level. Kaman used its four-hook carousel for the drops, and during one flight, demonstrated four airdrops in a single mission.
Kaman performed the airdrops using the Army's low cost low altitude cross parachute, a one-time-use expendable aerodynamic decelerator that costs about $375. Currently used to airdrop supplies from manned aircraft in Afghanistan, the parachute is designed to handle 80 to 600 pound payloads delivered from 150 ft to 300 ft altitudes above ground level.
"These airdrop tests continue our progress to advance the Unmanned K-MAX helicopter as a battlefield cargo delivery system," said Terry Fogarty, general manager of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Product Group at Kaman Helicopters. "Airdropping cargo as an option to placing a sling load on the ground can enhance an unmanned aircraft's survivability while delivering critical supplies in combat environments."
The Army NSRDEC personnel collaborated in the airdrops. "The demonstration exceeded our expectations," said Richard Benney, Division Leader, Aerial Delivery Equipment and Systems Division. "This capability will save lives, allowing us to deliver supplies to our troops using unmanned helicopters, while also avoiding the threat to the delivery platform in high-threat areas."
In January, Kaman and Lockheed Martin successfully demonstrated to the U.S. Marine Corps at Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah the capability of the unmanned K-MAX helicopter to resupply troops by unmanned helicopter at forward operating bases in Afghanistan. During the demonstration, the team showed autonomous and remote control sling load delivery over both line-of-sight and satellite-base beyond-line-of-sight data links.
Future tests may include the use of single and/or multiple Joint Precision Airdrop Systems (JPADS) from higher altitudes. JPADS could be used in higher threat environments to resupply multiple and dispersed ground forces from one unmanned K-MAX release point.
Kaman designed the K-MAX helicopter to deliver sling loads up to 6,000 pounds at sea level, and 4,300 pounds at 15,000 ft. Lockheed Martin's mission management and control systems give the K-MAX helicopter unparalleled flight autonomy in remote environments and over large distances.
"Autonomous flight will enable military users to fly the unmanned K-MAX helicopter in day or night conditions," said Dan Spoor, Aviation Systems Vice President at Lockheed Martin's Mission Systems & Sensors facility in Owego, NY. "Adding an airdrop capability to the system gives the Army or Marines another resupply option."