The U.S. has taken a huge step toward attaining an unmanned cargo lift capability in Afghanistan.
On Dec. 15 and 16, the Corps flew two unmanned K-MAX helicopter test flights “out to one of the forward operating bases without a load,”’s Jeffrey Brown tells Aviation Week. “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, followed by the deployment of two K-MAXs to Afghanistan for operational testing in October.
Lockheed Martin and Kaman teamed up in 2007 to meet a Marine Corps request for an unmanned lift capability in-theater, transforming the manned K-MAX into an optionally piloted aircraft. In testing earlier this year, the Corps confirmed that the K-MAX was capable of exceeding the Navy and Marines’ requirement to deliver 6,000 lb. of cargo per day over a five-day period.
In a statement released in early October, U.S. Naval Air Systems Command said the team that would deploy to Afghanistan “consists of active-duty mission commanders and air vehicle operators of the Cargo Resupply Unmanned Aircraft System Detachment of Marine Corps VMU-1 stationed at Yuma, Ariz.,” as well as company employees.
The Navy added that “most of the missions will be conducted at night and at higher altitudes, avoiding threat of small arms fire.” There has been no word on whether the missions occurred in daylight or at night, and the length of the flights and the location remain classified.