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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Kaman's Legacy K-Max Poised to Rise Again

Commercial orders from restarting production of the aerial truck may lead to significant purchases from the U.S. military following the success of the unmanned version in Afghanistan.

By Andrew Drwiega, International Bureau Chief

The K-Max production line could be brought back to life if there are enough orders to make it cost-effective, said Terry Fogarty, Kaman’s general manager for unmanned systems. Although he admitted that the company regularly gets requests for its veteran intermeshing rotor helicopter, which obtained its type certificate back in 1994, Kaman used Heli-Expo to gauge just how serious potential customers were and getting them to state whether they would commit to a deposit.

Unlike many companies who divest themselves of production line tooling, Kaman has kept its K-Max machinery in relatively good storage conditions. “We could turn on the production line in around 15-18 months,” said Fogarty, adding that a more accurate forecast would depend on how quickly its suppliers could also stand up and deliver to Kaman. The company is believed to be looking for around 10 firm commitments for it to make a positive decision by the end of the year.

Of the 35 K-Max originally manufactured, only around 20 are still flying (including that operated by the USMC). Fogarty said that the company would make a decision about whether to restart the production line by the end of the year. “I always thought it was going to be a pause in production, albeit one that has lasted for 13 years,” said Fogarty. “It will be the same aircraft with the same design, engine and blades,” confirms Fogarty, adding that any changes would necessitate a re-certification that the company would not wish to go through: “Potential customers want it for exactly what it does now.”

While the aircraft is highly valued by civil customers in the firefighting and logging sectors, the success of the one remaining unmanned K-Max flying with the U.S. Marine Corps should not be underappreciated. The Marines have continually extended their field trials of the aircraft, which was first taken to Afghanistan in late 2011. Starting with two unmanned K-Max, the second has not operated since an accident in June 2013.

Fogarty added that the U.S. Army has also shown significant interest in the unmanned K-Max, a fact just recently underlined by an announcement revealing that Lockheed Martin had been selected by the U.S. Army Robotics Technology Consortium “to conduct a fully autonomous reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition experiment using both its Squad Mission Support System (SMSS) unmanned ground vehicle and its K-Max unmanned air vehicle.”

While restarting the production line would serve a civilian market requirement, it would take away the military’s concern about going forward with an unmanned program based on an out-of-production aircraft. Ten civilian orders may just be the tip of the iceberg if either the Marines or the Army like what they see and look for funding for volume deliveries.

Related: Airframe News

 

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