Unmanned K-Max Gets Cleverer


Lockheed Martin and Kaman have demonstrated new capabilities for the K-Max unmanned cargo helicopter under the U.S. Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate's Autonomous Technologies for Unmanned Air Systems (ATUAS) program.

The demo at Fort Pickett in Virginia in July included passing high-definition video over high-bandwidth satellite communications to provide improved situational awareness for the operator.

The latest demo also included dynamic mission replanning, and autonomous obstacle avoidance and landing-zone selection using a three-dimensional laser radar.

Photo: US Marine Corps

A goal of the demo was to send real-time hi-def video over high-bandwidth satellite communications link to provide beyond-line-of-sight drop-zone situational awareness to the remote operator. This required the "industry-first" installation of wideband through-the-rotor satcom on a helicopter, says Lockheed.

A Wescam MX-10 hi-def EO/IR sensor was installed and a Ku-band satcom antenna mounted below the K-Max's intermeshing rotors. A waveform was developed that avoided blockage by the rotating blades by "shooting the signal between rotor cycles, to go between the blades," the company says.

The dynamic mission replanning demo involved uploading a no-fly zone direct to the air vehicle in flight. The aircraft sensed the obstacle directly ahead, and automatically replanned around it.

Also demonstrated was obstacle avoidance and landing-zone selection using a Fairchild Controls Hellas lidar to autonomously check the landing-zone slope, detect obstacles and select a safe area to drop the cargo.

A final ATUAS demonstration is planned for November. This operational utility assessment will include multi-vehicle control from the K-Max ground station, representing a team of cargo UAS.

The demo will also include autonomous retrograde capability – bringing cargo back. This has been accomplished manually with the unmanned K-Max in Afghanistan with Marine Corps personnel making “hot hook-ups” to the hovering helicopter.

In the November, the unmanned helicopter will fly in, identify the load, autonomously attach its hook and fly away. This is an extension of the ground beacon first demoed under ATUAS in April 2012, and which allows loads to be delivered to within 3 meters.

The beacon was deployed to Afghanistan, where two K-Max unmanned helicopters were being used to resupply remote Marine Corps forward operating bases until operations were paused in early June after one of the aircraft crashed.

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