Helicopters are the most reliable way to get supplies to some of the more remote outposts in Afghanistan, but flying resupply missions is dangerous work. As of this week, some of those aerial resupply jobs will be taken over by an unmanned K-MAX helicopter, which flew its first successful mission over the weekend.
The K-MAX is an unmanned (or optionally manned) conversion of the Kaman K-MAX aerial truck, modified for autonomous operations by Lockheed Martin. The K-MAX has that "aerial truck" moniker because it was designed from the ground up for cargo lifting, with intermeshing rotors that allow it to lift three and a half tons of cargo (more than the weight of the helicopter itself) up to 250 miles.
Over the weekend, the K-MAX went from "boy, this would be great if we could get it to work" to "now in preparation for sustained operations" after an autonomous cargo delivery to an unspecified location in southern Afghanistan. Using the K-MAX instead of a manned helicopter protects human crews, of course, but also allows for more missions to be flown more frequently, because robots don't get tired and are generally pretty good at flying in the dark.
K-MAX is currently being worked over by the Marine Corps, and if it checks out, the Army, Navy, and Air Force might all start to invest in an entire fleet of little robotic delivery copters.
Via [ Danger Room ]
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.