Afghanistan Unmanned Cargo Supply Mission Can Be Extended Indefinitely

By Stew Magnuson
LAS VEGAS — Lockheed Martin stands ready to extend an experimental program that is resupplying Marines in Afghanistan using an autonomous unmanned helicopter, company executives said Aug. 7 at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference.  
The KMAX optionally piloted aircraft has lifted nearly 2 million pounds since it was deployed to Afghanistan in December, and recently began returning loads from forward operating bases as well as performing its primary resupply function, Jon McMillen, Lockheed Martin business development manager for unmanned systems, told reporters.
Called "hot hookups," this requires Marines on the ground to attach a hook to the aircraft as it hovers, so equipment no longer needed at these remote outposts can be returned to home bases.
KMAX is a heavy lift helicopter that is flown throughout the world, mostly by logging companies and as a manned aircraft. Twenty-two have been built, and Lockheed Martin is hoping to revive its now defunct production line, McMillen said. Currently, it does not have any customers interested in purchasing more.
The Marine Corps awarded Lockheed a contract to fly two of the optionally piloted helicopters until the end of this fiscal year, and perhaps beyond, he said. "We can keep them in Afghanistan as long as they want to keep them there," McMillen said.
So far, the two KMAX have flown about six resupply flights per day, which has totaled 485 missions. The initial goal was to keep supply trucks off the roads and reduce their exposure to roadside bombs.
Currently, neither the Army nor the Marine Corps have requirements for an autonomous, or remotely piloted vertical take-off and landing aircraft. However, the Army has a development contract through its Aviation Applied Technology Directorate for Lockheed Martin to come up with a beacon that can bring the aircraft to its location. That work was completed, and the Marine Corps recently began using the beacon, he said. It is accurate to within 3 meters, he said.
The Army also wants the company to develop fully autonomous hot hookup capabilities where the aircraft can pick up a load without any help on the ground. It is also investigating a 3D realtime mapping system so it can look for obstacles in a landing zone.
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

Topics: Aviation, Rotary Wing, Transport Aircraft, Robotics, Unmanned Air Vehicles

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