“We are not talking about pizza boxes”

Hot on the heels of Sikorsky’s resounding flight of an autonomous Black Hawk, Connecticut’s other helicopter maker is approaching flight tests of an aerial drone to transport cargo to troops, workers in remote locations or people needing emergency supplies after disasters.

Kaman plans its first flight tests later this year for Kargo UAV, an unmanned aerial vehicle designed to lift loads of up to 800 lbs. and transport them over hundreds of kilometres. The Bloomfield manufacturer hopes to interest the U.S. military in the drone rotorcraft, as well as certain industries that rely on regular cargo shuttles or sporadic supply flights.

The Naval Helicopter Association Historical Society credits Kaman with being the first to fly an unmanned helicopter, in 1957. The United States Marine Corps used a remotely piloted version of the K-MAX helicopter from the company in Afghanistan, and the Marines have prototypes of Kaman’s newest K-. MAX Titan helicopter drone designed to carry more than two tons of payload.

Although the fuselage and rotors of the K-MAX Titan are no different from those of a conventional helicopter, the Kargo drone looks like an oversized version of the lightweight quadcopter drones that are widely used today for taking photos and videos. aerial.

CEO Ian Walsh said last week that the company hopes to begin mass production of the Kargo aircraft by 2025.

“We’re super excited about the demand signals we’re getting — both from the military and commercial side — for Kargo UAVs,” Walsh said on a conference call with investment analysts. “Business-wise, in terms of timing, it’s hard to predict; but I can tell you from recent meetings with some of the customers and some of the markets that we’ve been talking about, there’s a huge requirement [and] demand for this type of application – oil and gas being one in particular.

Kaman hired Walsh in September 2020. Earlier in his career, Walsh worked for Bell and parent company Textron, both of which designed unmanned aerial vehicles for the U.S. military, including the Army-used Shadow American and the V-247 Vigilant offered by Bell.

Bell is now vying with Sikorsky and Boeing to replace the Black Hawk with a new fleet of faster, more powerful utility planes. The Pentagon expects to issue a decision next month on its preferred design, with thousands of Connecticut jobs at stake at Sikorsky and parent company Lockheed Martin.

The US Department of Defense has budgeted $3.1 billion for UAV aircraft in the coming fiscal year. The Pentagon’s spending for the coming year on unmanned aerial vehicle systems dwarfs what it plans for new Black Hawk helicopters, though Sikorsky is counting on decades of additional work to update existing planes to requirements. modern warfare.

With the surveillance and strike capability at the forefront of drones, the military is adding cargo applications to its focus. The MilitaryFactory.com site now lists around a hundred military drones for various missions, some of which are still in the design phase.

The US Navy has been testing prototype quadcopters made by a Colorado company called PteroDynamics that can lift up to 50 pounds, which the Navy says could be used for 90% of ‘critical repair’ cargoes to ships in sea.

But with Kargo, Kaman envisions a versatile drone wagon for dropping much heavier loads, whether at sea or in other remote locations. The U.S. Marine Corps has considered an inexpensive way to get munitions and supplies to small teams of ground troops in an operational model it calls Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations, coordinating operations across hundreds of kilometers.

“If you want to operate this way, you have to worry about isolation and things like that – it’s a new tactic,” said Romin Dasmalchi, senior business development manager for Kaman government sales, and a former Marine colonel and airman who led the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. “The idea behind Kargo was to provide a low-cost, easy-to-use, logistics-focused machine capable of supporting troops. We’re not talking about pizza box deliveries – we’re talking about supplying hundreds, if not thousands pounds of ammunition per day.

The company also discussed the possibility of commercial applications, including the use of Kargo for ‘middle mile’ freight transport between warehouses to organize local ‘last mile’ deliveries to homes and businesses.

Kargo’s guidance systems are designed by a Pittsburgh startup called Near Earth Autonomy, in which Kaman invested $10 million in June. Near Earth Autonomy was part of the team that won the Vertical Flight Society’s 2018 Howard Hughes Award for Technical Innovation, which Sikorsky won three years prior with his Matrix Autonomous Flight System which he has since adapted for the autonomous flight of the Black Hawk earlier this year.

Kaman’s largest helicopter program was the small Seasprite and its successor Super Seasprite, which the U.S. Navy uses to hunt submarines and small surface ships lurking on the horizon, as well as for utility roles such as cargo and medical evacuation.

The company today derives most of its aviation revenue from the parts and systems that go into other manufacturers’ aircraft, including the cockpits of the search and rescue helicopters that Sikorsky manufactures in Stratford for the United States Air Force. Kaman also manufactures fuzes for laser-guided bombs that arm and detonate munitions; and parts for a wide range of industrial and medical systems.

Sales totaled $319 million in the first six months of this year, down 10% from a year ago. Profits more than halved to $8.1 million.

In January, the company sold its subsidiary Kaman Distribution Group to Genuine Parts for $1.3 billion, with the division employing 1,700 people. Kaman reported a staff of 2,850 at the end of last year.

But Kaman is adding a major new product line with the $440 million acquisition of a Parker-Hannifin division outside of Cleveland that makes wheels, brakes, and related hydraulics — with aerial drones among the 450,000 aircraft equipped with Parker-Hannifin systems on board.

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