Drone Helos the Only Choppers on Display at MDM ’11

The only helos on display at this years’ Modern Day Marine expo at Marine Corps Base Quantico reflect constant need for supply and intel for troops on the ground – be they Leathernecks or GI Joes.

One, the K-MAX, is a battleship gray, cargo-carrying aircraft designed to fly sans pilot, though there’s a cockpit in place the event that human touch is desired or needed. Further along the midway is a small, sleek black Boeing A160 Hummingbird helo (shown above).

There’s no cockpit in this chopper, which is being used as a stealthy eye in the sky.

“It’s completely unmanned, completely autonomous,” said Mansik Johng of Boeing, which picked up the program when it bought the company originally developing under DARPA funding it in 2004. “It can stay [aloft] about 18.7 hours. In fact, it set a world record for endurance for this class of vehicle.”

A primary customer is Special Operations Command, which has plans to acquire up to 20 of the black birds up through 2017, though the company also has a $30 million contract to supply two to Naval Air Systems Command, Johng said.

The company is preparing an unspecified number of Hummingbirds for their first deployment to Afghanistan in the coming year.

“It can carry different payloads,” he said, pointing out the Hellfire missiles mock-up on the Quantico display. “But primarily this is more of an ISR aircraft.”

Meanwhile, the K-MAX (shown above) is described as “a workhorse” that will ferry supplies and material out to combat forces in the field.

K-MAX is a Kaman Aircraft helicopter. The company has partnered up with Lockheed Martin to fully develop the helo as an autonomous or remotely controlled aircraft. Lockheed said it made a good showing of its capabilities a year ago, when a K-MAX carried more than 3,000 pounds of cargo to three pre-programmed delivery coordinates, delivering the cargo by sling autonomously, during a demonstration for the Marine Corps at the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah.

The Corps intends to pick up three of the aircraft for use in Afghanistan, according to reports. Lockheed spokeswoman Alexandra Wildfong said the K-MAX completed a required a Quick Reaction Assessment recently out in Arizona.

“We are currently waiting on a decision whether we’re going to deploy these in theater,” she said.

— Bryant Jordan

  • STemplar

    The Kmax does sling loads.

    The Hummingbird’s range make it a heck of a stand off maritime strike option I think.

  • Ed!

    I wonder if there is a thought of using these as a possible medevac bird in some situations? The current medevacs are manned and usually do not land under heavy fire, they do have living pilots after all. But perhaps one of these unmanned birds had a way of allowing a wounded serviceman to get onboard and quickly take off to have them evacuated out to safety, might be a way to save lives. Sometimes the reason servicemen die is because the medevac can’t get in there to evacuate them, this could be a new way of trying to get them out.

  • Mastro

    I just wonder how all the data from all these UAV’s is being handled- I jut imagine a bunch of Marines staring at screens and missing the big picture.

    Forrest for the trees type stuff.

  • Guest

    The entire situation of unmanned helicopters for the US military confuses me. Could someone please explain:
    What is the time frame of this project? Will there be a downselect between the A160 and K-MAX? When will the enter service/production? Who plans to use them? Will they be armed or is that just an option?

    • Guest again

      Also, how many are planned?

    • TMB

      They’ve been testing both for the last year or so. One bird can haul more, but the other bird can fly a hell of a lot longer. That was the issue they were addressing when I first read about this. I don’t know if they’ve made any progress one way or the other. Like the article states at the end, they want the capability in Afghanistan at least for trials nowish.

  • Jarman

    I think the first few posts are correct. The sling delivery system of the K-Max releases one load at a time and the demo mentioned in the piece was actually an autonomous delivery by one helo delivering to 3 places, one after the other.

    Imagine that following in a team with heavier weapons and supplies. Especially if they can be made stealthy.

  • r1tual

    15 million dollars each?

    Seems like when it comes to weapons, everything is 100X more expensive then you would think.

    I always look at things as what it would cost to build them with raw resources. I understand the companies need to pay employees, etc etc etc. But sometimes I scratch my head and wonder what the breakdown is on why things cost as much as they do.

    An interesting job I would love to have is being like a government auditor. Interesting to think about how a billion dollar stealth bomber for example costs so much. Some parts are probably the size of an ipod and cost a half million dollars to make.

  • Eric

    The profile, flight altitude, & quietness of the A160Hbird makes it as close to stealth as helos get. Also Unloading isnt an issue as the uavs purpose is to drop relatively small loads to Distributed Squads & Platoons on the move.

  • FYI

    K-MAX is 100 times louder than the Hummingbird. A160 has “whisper mode” rotor system. Reminds me of the old “Blue Thunder” movie with Roy Scheider.

  • megadama

    Dugway Proving Grounds outside of Wendover, Utah, has been spraying something over the skies of Elko County, Nevada, starting about a month ago. I just photographed no less than ten jets leaving what can’t possibly be normal exhaust trails. They’re about four times wider than the trails we’re all used to seeing. Plus, we never get that many jets through here, at most about one a day. Dugway and The Newly-Formed Communist Government Of America are up to something very nefarious. And I know these jets must be from Dugway because they’re the closest commie base. I’m writing all my local, county, state, and federal officials. You need to start making your voices heard about all the anti-American, anti-freedom crap that’s coming down. Google “chemtrails” and see what you come up with. I’m emailing out my photos as we speak. Harold Dean Berry - Wells, Nevada.