The US Army and Marines' ongoing effort to get unmanned robot supply helicopters into service continues, with a further $47m contract award announced yesterday. The unmanned cargo version of the Kaman K-Max helicopter. Credit: Lockheed You can put a flyboy in there if you want one for some reason The deal, awarded by the Army …
How flexible is it?
Although you could replace manned utility helicopters with drones I'm guessing the main concern is how flexible they are in operation, e.g. can it choose to make a low level approach to the drop zone if conditions dictate (i.e. ~50') or make a down wind approach if the situation demands. The helicopter can but it would be interesting to know if the AI can or if it's strictly a take-off, climb to X thousand feet and cruise towards the destination kind of pilot.
Intersting that they've gone for an aircraft that can only carry external loads (the KMax was originally designed for logging I believe) which limits what you can do with the machine.
re: which limits what you can do with the machine.
No! that limit was set by the term 'SkyHook' the Kmax is actually a triangular body narrow at the bottom and has a very effective lift footprint (maximum down draft), making it able to lift more than a wide body could for its size...
As for replacing manned helicopters, that is not the idea. The 'skyhooks' would be used for base to base transits doing the relatively safe (for a war zone) trucking duties, replacing ground trucks that are susceptible to IED's and hijacking, and also freeing up the manned crafts (that are presently doing trucking jobs) for the trickier more important mission duties such as insertion/extraction and front-line support Duties.
What I meant by that was that if you can only carry the cargo dangling under the aircraft your flight profile is more limited as you can't throw it about as much, not that it's actual lift capacity was limited. Generally you cant go as fast with an underslung load either.
If you just want to lift stuff then it's an ideal machine but as you say it would be limited to the 'safe' routes thus freeing up the meatbags for the more dangerous stuff. Maybe that's why pilots aren't so keen on the idea...
Limitation or design limit.
Your catching on. and your right, you can't "throw it about as much" but a robotic pilot would not "throw it about as much" anyway that what meatbags do! autopilot is just that for getting from A to B usually by the shortest route, but occasionally via defined waypoints for air corridors or to avoid trouble spots or heavily populated areas.
No one has invented a self aware combat robot yet. that is able to dodge bullets and rockets.. That job is exclusively for meatbags or Hollywood. War zones are usually very quiet combat is usually limited to sporadic burst in certain (usually populated) areas. These days supply lines just avoid those areas. the problem is that Roads go straight to these areas.. So you are taking about 30 minutes airborne and zero small arms hits rather than 15 minutes direct and 10 hits.
You should also realise that a slung load can be loaded and dropped off in only 30 seconds or so. which is highly advantageous when you are shipping back and forth. an internal load requires 20 minutes on the ground at each end.. if you are shipping 30 crates on a 30 minute flight.. I'll let you do the maths.
The Darpa Grand challenge was set up to develop robotic trucks for robotic delivery tasks, but that only works in situations where you have army vs army with defined front lines and where it is safe behind the line. The wars we are fighting now are not like that there is no front line as such fighting can and does break out anywhere, even in areas that were safe the day before. this is the problem with an Embedded Enemy. so the Darpa Robotic Trucks would be useless! hence the need to fly supplies, with a device like the kmax .
Dunno - I suspect they'd be quite happy about it. A lot of helicopter trips are routine resupply missions, and they only use helicopters bcos trucks get ambushed and drivers get killed. Automate the routine stuff and use the highly-skilled pilots for serious stuff that needs humans in the loop (like close air support, or getting people into/out of places where the situation can change rapidly). Then pilots get *more* opportunity for medals.
Except that they all like to fly.
Even if it's a boring flight, it's still better than pushing paper around a desk, or waiting in the dole queue. If they get rid of the routine manned flights, they could get rid of maybe 3/4 of the helicopter pilots. There just won't be the need for them.
Of course, it means that air crews will be freed up so that more of the tricky jobs can be attempted at once, but there'll be a limit on how many aircraft are available. Also, if the helicopters no longer need an armed escort, that's (again) either more aircraft freed for other duties, or more pilots taken off the flight roster.
Beancounters will be happy. Pilots won't.
... you've got to remember that Lewis is a navy guy for whom all "fly boys" are nothing more than glory hounds who are more interested in getting ribbons on their chest to impress the ladies...
Is that the right picture?
You seem to have illustrated the article with a picture of a single rotor helicopter (unless the other one is off-frame).
Re: Is that the right picture?
It's the angle dude.
If you look again carefully at the picture you can just see that there are two separate but very close rotorheads, each with a twin bladed rotor on.
Not easy to see
but it is right. Two hubs side-by-side, each canted outboard so that a 2-blade rotor sweeps over the other hub, and intermeshes with the othe rotor at 90degrees. Wikipaedia has a picture that helps.
I think if you look closely it has two rotors each with just 2 vanes.
Jumping ahead of yourself
"...lead on to robotic casualty evacuation, which would remove one of the main ways for a chopper pilot to win a medal for going in under fire."
Yes, because we already have robotic medical staff, don't we.
Come on Lewis, cas-evac is going to require real life meatsacks in the back for a long, long time, unless you think they just sling a grappling hook round the casualty and drag them up into the air?
Not far off from the Bell OH-13s used for CASEVAC work in Korea - the patients were placed in paniers either side of the cockpit. Not exposed in any way to small arms fire etc....
Using these robocopters wouldn't be much different - still not what I'd call desirable (but I doubt the patient will be healthy enough to put up much in the way of complaints!), but an option.
The nice feature of the proposed K-Max version is that you can still have a pilot in the cabin.
Use the AI for simple Point A to Point B resupply mission or assign a pilot if it's more complicated.
I can't see the K-Max being used for MEDEVAC or personnel transport without serious modification though.
Ok now it's automated
When are they going to strap a couple of jet engines to the side of this thing (ala X2 and Airwolf) and get this thing over 300mph?
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