K-MAX UAV successfully demonstrates firefighting capability

By Patrick C. Miller | November 20, 2014

By next summer, the K-MAX unmanned aerial system (UAS) could play a vital role in helping the U.S. Department of Interior battle wildfires that threaten lives and property.

Earlier this month, Lockheed Martin and Kaman Corp. conducted a successful demonstration of the optionally manned UAS, twin-rotor K-MAX helicopter and an Indago quadcopter at the Griffiss International Airport, one of six test sites designated by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The demonstration was requested by the Department of Interior and attended by about 100 representatives, including the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, service providers and New York state fire and police representatives.

The quadcopter was controlled by a separate operator and acted as a scout to locate the fire set up on one side of the airport. The K-MAX flew to a dammed stream, filled its 500-gallon bucket with water and then dropped the water on the coordinates provided by the scout UAV.

The K-MAX flew different mission types to demonstrate its capabilities, which included delivering an ATV and dropping sequential lines of water to create a firebreak. It dropped 3,000 gallons of water in one hour.

“We did eight different scenarios which were all guided to us by our customer on what would be appropriate for them to see to support future use of aircraft like this for firefighting,” said Dan Spoor, vice president of Aviation and Unmanned Systems at Lockheed Martin’s Mission Systems and Training Business

Spoor noted that the K-MAX returned this year from a 33-month deployment supporting the military in Afghanistan where it flew about 2,000 missions and successfully moved 4.5 million tons of cargo.

Greg Steiner president of the Kaman’s aerospace group, said, the K-MAX can be flown as a manned platform during the eight-hour window when firefighting operations are typically conducted during daylight. The mission could be extended two or three times longer by flying it as UAV at night or during bad weather, he said.

“It can fight fires directly and also support the ground-based firefighters, resupply of food, water, medical supplies and equipment,” Steiner said. “It can even perform rescue or extraction operations.”

Larry Brinker, executive director of the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance, said the demonstration with two different UAS was a success in the Griffiss’ mission to integrate UAS into the national airspace. The airport control tower coordinated the UAV operations at the same time it was handling civil traffic.

Noting that Lockheed Martin has been a member of the NUAIR Alliance from the beginning, Brinker said the facilities at Griffiss—a former U.S. Air Force B-52 base—work well for the FAA’s and industry’s purposes.

“It gives the industry partner an opportunity for growth, but it also gives us some really vital safety data that we can give the FAA to help them form the rules and regulations,” he said.

Headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services.

Kaman Corp., founded in 1945 by aviation pioneer Charles H. Kaman, and headquartered in Bloomfield, Connecticut, conducts business in the aerospace and industrial distribution markets.