The US Army has awarded a contract to Kaman Aerospace Corporation to develop enhanced mission capabilities for the unmanned K-MAX helicopter.

Under the $2.9m contract, Kaman will add mission equipment to evaluate and improve the reliability of K-MAX to the standard required for its commercial operations.

The development contract is part of the 2010 unmanned K-MAX programme being carried out by the Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center.

The K-MAX helicopter is a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial vehicle that provides technological solutions to the armed forces during battlefield operations.

Kaman is also developing self-funded autonomous pick-up technologies that will enable the K-MAX to attach loads without human intervention.

The development will also enable soldiers to determine the delivery point for the unmanned system on the ground.

Kaman Helicopters president Sal Bordonaro said the technology could be useful for missions including autonomous collection of retrograde after dropping off supplies and reducing soldier exposure to enemy fire.

Kaman designed K-MAX helicopter delivers sling loads up to 6,000lb at sea level, and more than 4,300lb at 15,000ft.

The helicopter also features Lockheed Martin’s mission management and control system, which allows enhanced autonomous flight in remote environments and over large distances.

Kaman, in cooperation with the US Army, recently conducted 11 cargo airdrop tests from 300ft to 400ft above ground level.