Lockheed Martin and Kaman Aerospace Corporation have demonstrated the feasibility of transporting supplies to ground troops by an unmanned helicopter.

The demonstration of the unmanned K-MAX helicopter showed autonomous take-off and landing, pick-up and delivery of a 3,000lb sling load, and the ability to autonomously re-plan and detour from its designated route to accommodate changes to mission requirements and battlefield threats.

The helicopter also illustrated the ability of a single ground operator to use both spoken and data commands to control the aircraft via data link, perform precision manoeuvres at the pick-up or drop zones, and easily transfer control to another ground operators for maximum interoperability.

The Kaman-designed K-MAX unmanned aerial system was controlled by Lockheed Martin’s KineForce mission management system, which is designed to translate the ground controller’s objectives into mission executable plans, provide autonomous flight control capability, understand the dynamic battlefield environment, and react to threats.

To command and control the K-MAX, a ground controller used a hand-held tablet computer – compatible with a common interface system used by the US Army for control of unmanned aerial vehicles – to define the mission plan and monitor the aircraft during flight.

The K-MAX features a unique intermeshing rotor system that eliminates the need for a tail rotor, directing all of the power from the Honeywell T5317A-1 gas turbine engine to the main rotors, Kaman said.

According to the company the design gives the aircraft a one-to-one lift ratio, enabling the K-MAX aircraft to lift up to 6,000lb – more than the aircraft’s own weight – and providing superior high altitude and hot environment performance and low noise signature.

By Elizabeth Clifford-Marsh