The K-MAX unmanned helicopter’s  next trip could take it from the ski slopes of Colorado to the snowy mountains of Afghanistan. With the weight of the equipment carried by the average Marine topping nearly 85 lbs., the U.S. Marine Corps has opted to seek methods of lightening the load. And K-MAX might just fit the bill. The aircraft has been used by the logging and ski industries to do the heavy lifting (much of it at high altitude) for years.

The K-MAX will go from moving mountains to moving Marine’s cargo with a design specifically geared to the service’s special requirements. The Marine Corps recently issued a request for proposals for an unmanned cargo aircraft, to which Lockheed Martin’s Mission Systems and Sensors business and K-MAX manufacturer Kaman Aerospace Corporation are preparing to respond. K-MAX has already successfully demonstrated its ability to resupply troops at forward operating bases in Afghanistan. Under a contract with the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, Lockheed Martin and Kaman spent three days this past January flying the at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, meeting or exceeding the requirements that were set.

“We’ve paired Lockheed Martin’s mission management system with the rugged K-MAX airframe, which will give Marines the lift and reliability they need in theater,” said Dan Spoor, Lockheed Martin Aviation Systems vice president. The aircraft offers significantly reduced operational and logistics costs compared to transporting cargo by convoy or manned helicopter. “More importantly, it keeps our Marines readily resupplied and out of harm’s way.”

During the Dugway flights, the unmanned K-MAX demonstrated its ability to hover at 12,000 ft. with a 1,500-pound sling load, deliver 3,000 pounds of cargo well within the six-hour required timeframe in two 150 nm round-trip flights, fly remotely controlled, perform a precision load delivery by a ground-based operator in either day or night conditions and upload a new mission plan to the aircraft’s mission management system during flight.

The team also showcased the unmanned K-MAX helicopter’s four-hook carousel, which enables multi-load deliveries in a single flight. The aircraft flew to three pre-programmed delivery coordinates loaded up with 3,450 lbs of cargo, and released a sling load autonomously each location. At the Marine’s request, the fourth load delivery was performed under manual control by the ground operator.

The manned version of the K-MAX has accumulated more than 255,000 flight hours in the commercial logging and firefighting industry. Recently, the aircraft moved 2.5 million lbs of boulders in just over 40 hours at 10,000 ft altitude. Kaman designed the K-MAX helicopter to deliver sling loads up to 6,000 pounds at sea level, and 4,300 pounds at 15,000 ft. Lockheed Martin’s mission management and control systems give the K-MAX helicopter unparalleled flight autonomy in remote environments and over large distances. The team has flown the K-MAX nearly 400 hours in unmanned mode since joining forces in 2007 and submitted a competitive and cost-effective proposal to the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command on Oct. 21 for the Marine Corps Cargo UAS Services request.

For more information on the K-MAX unmanned helicopter visit Lockheed Martin at http://www.lockheedmartin.com