Cargo drone makes debut in Afghanistan

Last Updated: Sunday, January 8, 2012 - 00:08

Kabul: The US military is testing a
revolutionary new drone for its arsenal, a pilot-less
helicopter intended to fly cargo missions to remote outposts
where frequent roadside bombs threaten access by road convoys.

Surveillance drones for monitoring enemy activity and
armed versions for launching airstrikes have become a
trademark of America`s wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere
in the Middle East. But this is the first time a chopper
version designed for transport has been used operationally.

Two unmanned models of the Kaman K-MAX helicopters and a
team of 16 company technicians and 8 Marines are conducting a
6-month evaluation program for the new craft at Camp Dwyer, a
Marine Corps airfield in the Garmsir district of southern
Helmand Province.

The craft have flown 20 transport missions since the
inaugural flight on December 17, said Maj. Kyle O`Connor, the
officer in charge of the detachment. They have delivered
nearly 18 tons 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," O`Connor said.

"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," he said. "With an unmanned
helicopter, even the aircrew is taken out of harm`s way."

The Marines from Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1 lead
the missions and deliver the cargo into combat drop zones,
while contractors operate and maintain the two aircraft.

The craft`s onboard 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.

The K-MAX is the latest in a series of Kaman synchronised
twin-rotor helicopters dating from the 1950s. The unusual
arrangement, with two side-by-side pylons on the helicopter`s
roof supporting counter-rotating blades, results in
exceptional stability while hovering and allows pinpoint cargo
delivery.

During the Vietnam War, a previous Kaman model, the
two-pilot HH-43 Huskie, flew more rescue missions than all
other aircraft combined because of this unique hovering
capability.

The manned version of the K-MAX helicopter first appeared
in the 1990s, and the pilot-less prototype was unveiled in
2008. It can carry a maximum payload of 6,855 pounds (3,100
kilograms) and costs about USD 1,100 an hour to operate,
several times less than any manned helicopter.

After a six-month test period, the military will
determine whether to put the craft into regular operational
use.

PTI



First Published: Sunday, January 8, 2012 - 00:08

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