The single-seat, heavy-lift K-MAX was originally certified in 1994; as a niche aircraft, only a few dozen were made before production ceased in 2003. Kaman Photo
Kaman Aerospace continues to make progress toward reopening the K-1200 K-MAX production line, the company reported at Heli-Expo 2015 in Orlando, Fla.
According to Kaman’s Terry Fogarty, the company has now received a number of deposits on new K-MAX helicopters, bringing it closer to restarting the commercial production line. “We laid down some decision gates on how we would open this up,” Fogarty explained, expressing optimism that Kaman will receive the remaining deposits it needs to meet its internal targets. “We’re way down the path.”
The single-seat, heavy-lift K-MAX was originally certified in 1994; as a niche aircraft, only a few dozen were made before production ceased in 2003. However, Kaman continues to manufacture rotor blades and other components to support the aircraft that are in service. Restarting the production line would involve ramping up that activity as well as building new airframes, which would take place at Kaman’s production facilities in Jacksonville, Fla. Fogarty said the company has already been making preparations to reopen the line, and is looking at an 18-month build plan, which would result in first deliveries in 2017.
In the meantime, Kaman is planning a second demonstration of the firefighting capabilities of the unmanned K-MAX, this time for the U.S. Forest Service in Boise, Idaho, in June. Kaman and its partner in the unmanned K-MAX program, Lockheed Martin, see firefighting as one promising civil application for the aircraft, which supported the U.S. Marine Corps in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2014. The companies conducted an initial firefighting demonstration with the unmanned K-MAX in November of last year, and, while “it could go out on a fire right now, realistically,” Fogarty said, he noted that there’s potential for software refinements to “make it a better tool for fighting fires.”
Because the unmanned K-MAX is actually an optionally piloted helicopter, a reopened commercial production line could produce both manned and unmanned aircraft. “It’s going to be not only exciting for us [at Kaman Aerospace], but for the entire Kaman Corporation,” said Fogarty, noting that getting “back into the helicopter-building business” would draw on the company’s diverse strengths in engineering and manufacturing.
Those strengths were on display in Orlando, where, among other things, Kaman was highlighting developments in its Specialty Bearings & Engineered Products division, which supplies bearings and flight-critical components to nearly every segment of the aviation industry. According to division president Rob Paterson, one innovation the company is particularly excited about is a new titanium diffusion hardening (TDH) technology that will allow it to create titanium bearings without the need for secondary coatings. Paterson said that Kaman is currently “doing a lot of validation” of the technology, and expects to have TDH bearings on the market in the next 12 months — just one example of the continuous improvement of its product line. “Every year it’s higher-performing technology,” he said.