London: The US military is testing a new drone which is a pilot less helicopter that can deliver supplies to soldiers stationed in areas where land mines make road convoys a problem.
It can carry a maximum payload of 6,855 pounds and at 1,100 dollars per hour its operational cost is much less than piloted helicopters.
Two unmanned models of the Kaman K-MAX helicopters and a team of 16 company technicians and eight Marines are conducting a six-month evaluation program for the new craft at Camp Dwyer, a Marine Corps airfield in the Garmsir district of southern Helmand Province.
The crafts have flown 20 transport missions since the inaugural flight on December 17, said Major Kyle O’Connor, the officer in charge of the detachment.
They have delivered nearly 18 tonnes of cargo, mainly thousands of Meals Ready to Eat and spare parts needed at the forward operating bases.
“Afghanistan is a highly mined country and the possibility of improvised explosive devices is always a problem moving cargo overland in a convoy,” the Daily Mail quoted Major O’Connor as saying.
“Every load that we can take off of a ground convoy reduces the danger and risk that our Marines, soldiers, and sailors are faced with.
“With an unmanned helicopter, even the aircrew is taken out of harm’s way,” he said.
The Marines from Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron One lead the missions and deliver the cargo into combat drop zones, while contractors operate and maintain the two aircraft.
The craft’s on-board computer uploads the mission plans, enabling them to fly on autopilot.
But an operator at base control monitors progress and can step in and override the autopilot for manual operation if any problems occur, or if the drone must be redirected in mid-flight.
After a six-month test period, the military will determine whether to put the crafts into regular operational use.