The US Marine Corps (USMC) will extend the deployment of two K-MAX unmanned aerial cargo haulers in Afghanistan until 30 September as the aircraft has met all expectations with less than one maintenance man-hour per flight hour.
The aircraft's operational service was initially set to end in June; the two K-MAX helicopters have managed to transport more than one million pounds in less than four months in support of USMC operations since its deployment in December 2011 in Afghanistan.
Lockheed Martin Mission System & Systems business Airborne Systems director Roger Il Grande said: "The record lift and readiness numbers we're seeing in-theatre are a testament to the aircraft's rugged design and its capability to reliably perform repetitive lift autonomously."
The Lockheed Martin and Kaman Aerospace-built K-MAX drone has been designed to perform autonomous or remote-controlled cargo delivery in harsh environments.
The single-engine, single-seat helicopter can also be used for logging, power line construction, ski-lift installations, and logistical support for remote construction sites, among others.
The K-MAX unmanned multi-mission helicopter features high-altitude, heavy-lift K-1200 airframe, as well as mission management and control systems to enable autonomous flight over long distances.
The unmanned helicopter can fly day or night with a larger payload than any other rotary wing unmanned aerial system; it can also supply multiple locations in one flight using a four-hook carousel.
K-MAX successfully completed a five-day quick reaction assessment (QRA) in September 2011and validated its ability to deliver more than 6,000lb of cargo a day at sea level and more than 4,000lb at 10,000ft altitude.
The USMC received two K-MAX helicopters in November 2011.
Image: The K-MAX unmanned cargo helicopter readies to take off on another mission. Photo: courtesy of US Marine Corps.