Updated again on 12/20
Word has come down to me that the K-MAX has not only successfully completed its maiden cargo flight, but is in fact now fully operational. Open source reporting has said that there are two K-MAX unmanned helicopters in Afghanistan, which would presumably mean that both are up and running when and where they're needed. It also looks like they're probably only flying at night, according to information put out by NAVAIR. “Most of the missions will be conducted at night and at higher altitudes,” said Marine Capt. Caleb Joiner, mission commander. “This will allow us to keep out of small arms range.”
On Saturday morning, the ISAF Joint Command (IJC) in Afghanistan confirmed that the K-MAX unmanned helicopter had (or will some time today) fly its first cargo mission in Afghanistan, meaning that if all goes well, we’re now in the age of unmanned logistics. In response to an email,the IJC writes back:
“The first unmanned flight without cargo was 15 December. It is scheduled for its first unmanned flight with cargo, today, 17 December.”
It’s been years in the making, but the Marines are inching ever closer to using unmanned aircraft to supply their grunts in the field. On December 15th and 16th, the Corps flew two unmanned K-MAX test flights “out to one of the forward operating bases without a load,” Lockheed Martin’s Jeffrey Brown says. “These flights were test flights in preparation for sustained operations.”
Built as a joint venture between Kaman Aerospace and Lockheed Martin, the K-MAX passed a five-day Quick Reaction Assessment for the U.S. Navy’s Cargo Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) program earlier this year—where it exceeded the Navy and Marines’ requirement to deliver 6,000 pounds of cargo per day over a five-day period—after which the Marines delivered two helicopters to Afghanistan for operational testing. You can read the whole story over at Aviation Week. (Subscription required.)
For what it’s worth, the Army has also been interested in checking out what the K-MAX can do, so as the Marines continue to prove it out, you can bet that other interested parties are watching.