Unmanned Aerial Resupply– Its Time Has Come

The world of unmanned aerial systems is booming. One test program, dubbed, “Cargo UAS,” put the unmanned aerial vehicle in the cargo resupply driver’s seat. And it worked.

The Army Proving Ground at Dugway, Utah, hosted recent aerial resupply demos. The Kaman KAMAX Burro and Boeing A160T Hummingbird schlepped a lot of stuff a long way at high altitudes.

The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab out of Quantico ,Va., has honchoed the experiment for nearly two years. After considerable industry coordination it was determined Kaman and Boeing met all program criteria and were tapped to participate in the demonstration.

After considering other sites like the Naval Air Warfare Center, China Lake, Calif., Dugway was chosen because it best replicated the less-than-hospitable conditions a vehicle and controller would find in Afghanistan. Aside from its terrain, Dugway’s unpredictable weather and high altitude were pluses for the test.

Burro and Hummingbird each faced unforeseen problems even though they performed two months apart. These challenges made the demonstration more realistic, according to lab officials. Over three days and four scripted scenarios, both aircraft performed a series of required maneuvers. They flew distances of 150 nautical miles at altitudes of 7,500 feet. The aircraft carried over 1,000 lbs., sling-load style. They flew at night through hazardous mountain ranges. They hovered above their drop zones.

For a successful delivery each UAS could be no more than a few feet off its target. Both birds were precise in their deliveries. One was so exacting it landed atop the stake marking the site and flew off with the load impaled on the stake.

Each company took very different routes. KAMAX is a converted 1960s manned helo. Hummingbird is a modern recon UAS converted to fly cargo. Their results were similar, possibly making each appealing for procurement if the services move in that direction.

Unmanned aerial resupply is viable to replace manned delivery options. Enough gear can be delivered, in this case 10,000 lbs in less than 24 hours.

Cargo UAS is now with the Marine Corp Combat and Development Command, also at Quantico, and naval aviation officials at Patuxent River, Md., for further consideration.

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