In January, a small group of U.S. Marines at a remote base near the Afghan village of Shurakay in northern Helmand province was running low on ammunition after fighting fiercely for days. The road in was too dangerous for a resupply convoy, and there were so many Taliban fighters that a helicopter crew trying to fly in would have been at serious risk.
Still, the Marines soon heard the soft thwack of rotor blades. They looked up as a glimpse of the future of aviation eased into a hover, then gently descended until a pallet of ammunition dangling beneath it touched ground. The cargo hook released itself and the unmanned Kaman K-MAX helicopter rose again, turned and flew off.
The K-MAX, which is the only drone cargo helicopter in the U.S. military fleet, made two more runs to the embattled outpost, dropping off more supplies each time.