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Unmanned helicopter delivers the goods in desert tests

posted 25 Feb 2011, 07:45 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 25 Feb 2011, 07:50 ]

An unmanned cargo delivery helicopter being developed for the US military has made "aviation history" according to it creators. Lockheed Martin and the Kamen Corporation say

their K-Max helicopter soared to new heights in tests at the US Army's Proving Ground near Yuma, Arizona, bringing it a step closer to deployment in the battle zones of Afghanistan.

 LOCKHEED MARTIN - The unmanned K-Max delivery system is designed to replace the convoys that require hundreds of soldiers to carry supplies to troops on the battlefield.

Its developers have test-flown the autonomous K-Max for more than 400 hours with a pilot in the cockpit keeping watch, but the record setting tests took place in late January, when the K-Max successfully completed multiple guided air drops from an altitude of 10,000 feet above sea-level. One of the payloads weighed 4,400 pounds (1995 kg), heavier than the average family car. Two of the airdrops were triggered remotely from the ground.

The helicopter can be remotely controlled by a ground-based operator in both day and night conditions. The operator can upload a new mission plan to the aircraft's mission management system during flight.

Kaman and Lockheed Martin are developing K-MAX to meet a U.S. Marine Corps requirement for unmanned cargo aircraft systems. Lockheed Martin says it has designed the helicopter's mission management and control systems to provide the K-MAX with exceptional flight autonomy in remote environments and over long distances.

The K-Max is based on the design for Kaman's single-seat helicopter. It uses twin engine, counter-rotating rotors which eliminates the need for a tail rotor. The design concentrates engine power to the main engines to maximise lift. Lockheed Martin says the unmanned helicopter will retain a pilot's seat to allow for greater operational flexibility.

Garf Cooper, Flight test director for the Unmanned K-MAX programme says the K-Max will remove the risk from the mundane but essential tasks in conducting a war.

"Ten years from now there will be fleets of fully-autonomous cargo aircraft operating probably worldwide," said Cooper.