Cargo UAVs -- Next Step, Pick and Place


Two Lockheed Martin/Kaman K-Max unmanned cargo helicopters now in Afghanistan are to stay there indefinitely, says a Reuters story confirmed by the US Navy. The aircraft have been in country since November 2011, and are one of the success stories of fielding new technology to meet urgent operational requirements.

Photo: DoD

Resupplying remote Marine Corps forward operating bases, the two K-Maxes operated by VMU-3 have flown more than 1,000 missions and hauled more than 3 million lb of cargo that would have otherwise been transported by trucks, Lockheed's Dan Schultz tells Reuters.

US forces are to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, and whether and how the Marine Corps will use the aircraft beyond that point is not clear. But the two aircraft have firmly established the concept of cargo UAVs.

Simply carrying beans and bullets from point to point isn't challenging enough for some, however. MLB has just completed a DARPA program demonstrating precision autonomous delivery and placement of payloads using a vertical take-off and landing UAV. The company's ducted-fan V-Bat was fitted with a stereo vision system to detect and track an object's position relative to the hovering UAV and guide a 6ft-long mechanical arm to pick up and place the payload.

The video above from the DARPA demo program shows the V-Bat autonomously approaching a ladder, extending its arm and fixing a claw with payload attached to a crossbar on the ladder. The vision-system cameras are mounted on the fuselage, just above the base of the arm, and on the end of the arm. It looks pretty jerky, but it works.

The tailsitter V-Bat is suited to this task because the ducted fan enables safe hovering close to obstacles (and people, below), while the robotic arm (which can lift a 1lb load) can be stowed along the fuselage during flight. The V-Bat takes off and lands vertically, but transitions to wingborne flight and can stay aloft for up to 10hr at speeds up to 90kt.

Photo: DARPA

Please or Register to post comments.

What's Ares?

Aviation Week's defense blog

From The Archives

Aviation Week is approaching its 100th anniversary in 2016. In a series of blogs, our editors highlight editorial content from the magazine's long and rich history.


Aug 27, 2015

Aviation Week Lifts Veil On Boeing B-52 Bomber (1952) 20

In 1952, Aviation Week provided the first details on the new Boeing B-52 bomber....More
Aug 14, 2015

Bonanza Travel Pays 3

The legendary Beechcraft Bonanza has an impressive production record, so perhaps the marketers back in 1949 were onto something when they coined the phrase "Bonanza travel pays."...More
Aug 14, 2015

Venerable Boeing 727 Prototype To Fly Again 29

The most famous 727, the prototype aircraft which would join United as N7001U, was delivered to the airline in October 1964 having served its time as a Boeing test aircraft....More
Aug 13, 2015

Aviation Week And The Bomb

Aviation News did not predict how nuclear weapons would change the world. But neither did anyone else....More
Aug 13, 2015

Collins Radar Takes The Ups And Downs Out Of Flying

Turbulence? Rockwell Collins had a solution for those bumpy rides in the early 80s with its WXR-700 Doppler Weather Radar....More
Blog Archive
Penton Corporate

Sponsored Introduction Continue on to (or wait seconds) ×