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Unmanned Lockheed Martin K-MAX Helicopters Being Tested To Fight Wildfires

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Thanks to military technology we can find a quicker way through traffic using GPS or cook quicker meals with a microwave oven.

The most visible current military tech finding its way into the daily lives of civilians are drones. From consumer playthings to advanced rigs filming Hollywood blockbuster scenes, drones are also helping save lives and nature, too.

K-MAX helicopters, developed by leading aeronautical company Lockheed Martin in partnership with helicopter makers KAMAN, have been pilotlessly transporting cargo in war zones in the Middle East. Now, they're being tested flying on American soil to prove their domestic benefit in fighting not terrorists but massive wildfires.

Before federal officials in Boise, Idaho, an autonomous K-MAX helicopter demonstrated its abilities to "perform wildland firefighting scenarios, including cargo drops, single target water drops, and progressive line building with a bucket," reports the U.S. Department of the Interior in a press release. For safety reasons, a pilot was still onboard the aircraft during the demonstration, but he kept his hands up throughout to prove that the helicopter was indeed flying on its own.

"We owe it to the firefighters on the ground to continually explore technologies that improve their safety and best support their efforts to protect communities and our nation's natural and cultural resources during a wildfire incident," said Mark Bathrick, director of Interior's Office of Aviation Services.

In the demonstration, the manned but autonomously flown chopper completed a mission of seven different firefighting tasks under an hour and a half. Outfitted with a plethora of high-tech sensors, the benefits of having this kind of helicopter fighting fires on its own are many.

When smoke reduces visibility to unsafe distances or when the sun sets and night comes, most firefighting from the sky typically ceases. Also, blazing wildfires often get too hot for humans to get close enough to them. An unmanned chopper like the K-MAX can get closer to the centerpoint of a fire and possibly put it out quicker. In the end, the K-MAX can keep going where humans cannot.

For over 80 years, humans have been fighting fires in manned aircraft. Should Lockheed Martin and KAMAN succeed in further demonstrations of their technology, the K-MAX chopper will be able to help save more lives, millions in property damage, and countless tracts of land and wildlife.

Photo: The U.S. Army | Flickr

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