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Military uses drone helicopter on supply mission for first time

January 09, 2012|By W.J. Hennigan

For the first time ever, the military used a drone to deliver food and supplies to troops in Afghanistan.

On Dec. 17, in a 90-minute flight, the Marine Corps deployed a cargo-lifting K-MAX helicopter drone, carrying 3,500 pounds of food and supplies to U.S. Marines at Combat Outpost Payne.

“We delivered cargo that was supposed to be delivered by convoy; now that convoy has three pallets that it does not have to carry,” said Maj. Kyle O’Connor, the officer-in-charge of the mission.

K-MAX is the latest robotic aircraft to join the military's expanding drone fleet, which include high-flying spy jets, small hand-launched planes and missile-firing hunter-killer aircraft.

Before its deployment, the heavy-lift drone chopper, made by Lockheed Martin Corp. and Kaman Aerospace Corp., underwent flight testsin Twentynine Palms.

Lockheed and Kaman teamed in 2007 to transform Kaman’s manned power-lift helicopter into a drone capable of autonomous or remote-controlled cargo delivery. Kaman designed the airframe and Lockheed designed the helicopter’s mission management and control systems.

The companies developed two unmanned K-MAX helicopters under a $45.8-million contract with the Navy.

Because the K-MAX can resupply troops without risking lives, the military hopes the K-MAX drone can reduce the number of truck convoys to forward operating bases, which are targeted by roadside bomb attacks in Afghanistan.

The drone’s first flight in the combat zone is part of a six-month assessment period in which the military will decide whether to purchase more of the robotic choppers.

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