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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Kaman President Steiner Talks K-MAX, Heli-Expo

Unmanned K-MAX continues flight testing as part of USMC cargo resupply program.

By Andrew Parker, Senior Editor

Greg Steiner, president of Kaman Aerospace Corp., spoke with Rotor & Wing late last week about developments in the company’s unmanned K-MAX program, and what to expect during Heli-Expo, which starts March 5 in Orlando.

R&W: Please provide an update regarding the K-MAX unmanned aerial system (UAS) program for the U.S. Marine Corps’ cargo resupply mission.
Steiner: It’s moving along quickly, and we’re getting a lot of interest—not only from the Marine Corps but within the Army as well. We’ve gone through the system requirements review and have the critical design review coming up within the next 30 days. Then we’re driving toward the [quick reaction] assessment in late summer.

R&W: What is involved with the quick reaction assessment?
Steiner: As we understand it, we’ll go through a series of demonstrations as part of the assessment, and then the Marine Corps will make a decision. Right now, our understanding is they’ll pick one of the platforms, and deploy that to Afghanistan to pilot the concept for sure.

R&W: What are the next steps after completing the quick reaction assessment?
Steiner: The way the contract is set up, there’s a whole series of 30-day options, so we can deploy for two or three months, or we could for six or eight months, depending on what the [military] would like to do. We see that happening pretty quickly.

R&W: Is Kaman exploring any commercial applications for the unmanned K-MAX?
Steiner: We haven’t looked real hard at the commercial side of unmanned—that’s a very different world and would potentially have a whole lot of different requirements at the aircraft level. Our concentration for the future of the K-MAX has really been the military versions. The current program is very focused on cargo resupply. And we see some capabilities to expand the platform capability with add-ons. We can put other equipment on the aircraft, and it can be a relay [helicopter], it can be an observer—there’s lots of other potential rather than being just a single-mission aircraft. Those are the kinds of things we’re looking at for the future of the platform.

R&W: Any future potential for commercial sectors like firefighting or logging?
Steiner: The primary use of the [manned K-MAX] fleet now is logging, firefighting and heavy lift. Some of that is real precision work, and having the pilot in the loop there makes a lot of sense. And there isn’t the same level of inherent danger to the pilot as there is trying to resupply somebody in the mountains of Afghanistan. When you’re logging, nobody’s shooting at you.

R&W: How is Kaman approaching this year’s Heli-Expo?
Steiner: Last year we talked about changes in the air, and this year we’re using phrases like, “full speed ahead.” Certainly the K-MAX will be featured there, some of the things we’re doing in the blade center of excellence and the capability that we’ll have in Mexico—it’s all driven around growth and expansion.

R&W: What are the company’s goals for the next two to three years?
Steiner: We’re pretty optimistic. We’re on some good platforms that look like they’ll continue to survive budget cuts, and we like our capabilities going forward. … We’re thinking that the commercial market will be reasonably robust, and some of the investments we’re making go toward increasing our penetration in the commercial market. We’d like to more aggressively grow that part of the business while we maintain and grab content from the military. We’re bullish about the next two, three, even five years.

For the full interview, visit www.rotorandwing.com in early March.

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