Lockheed Martin has teamed with Kaman Aerospace to market a manned/unmanned version of the K-Max external-lift helicopter for military applications, writes Graham Warwick. The single-seat, single-engine K-Max, which has a 2,720kg (6,000lb) lift capability, could be used to replace vulnerable ground convoys or to resupply special-operations forces.

Developed for civil external-lift missions such as logging, the intermeshing-rotor K-Max has already demonstrated unmanned resupply operations under the US Marine Corps' Burro technology demonstration. Lockheed will act as prime contractor for the military manned/unmanned version, providing autonomous flight control, mission avionics, sensors and weapons.

"The air vehicle will be similar to what you see today," says Scott Green, vice-president business development for Lockheed Martin Systems Integration, who sees military requirements emerging for an unmanned helicopter able to lift heavy loads at high altitudes for the resupply of forces in remote, difficult or dangerous areas. "The big benefit of the K-Max is its ability to haul 6,000lb - that's a discriminator."

Because the manned K-Max is already certificated and an unmanned version is already flying, Green believes the team could field a production vehicle in 12-18 months. Kaman continues to make improvements to the Burro demonstrator, says helicopters division president Sal Bardonardo.

Lockheed plans to apply ground station and control system technology developed under the cancelled Unmanned Combat Armed Rotorcraft demonstration programme, Green says. This could include algorithms allowing air vehicles to operate in teams, possibly as airborne convoys. "It would not be difficult to do that," he says.

Source: Flight International