Two unmanned helicopters have been flying experimental combat missions delivering goods to American marine outposts in Afghanistan since December 2011. The project has been such a success it has twice been extended and may well run until September 2013. The helicopters in question are modified versions of the K-MAX, built by Kaman, an American aerospace firm. They are used in a number of military roles and in civilian jobs, such as logging and power-line construction, as a sort of airborne sky-crane cum delivery truck.
The K-MAX was selected because it can carry over 2,700kg, which is more than its unladen weight. Unlike many large fixed-wing drones, which are flown under remote control by ground-based pilots, a modified K-MAX flies autonomously along a programmed course using GPS to navigate via specified way points. It can also be operated by remote control. The craft use a number of sensors, some of which Lockheed Martin is keeping mum about. These give the helicopter an awareness of its surroundings which is precise enough for it to land in total darkness.
The top speed of the K-MAX is only about 100 knots (115mph), but it has all the virtues of unmanned aircraft: it never gets sick, tired or goes on leave. Helicopter pilots are a scarce resource who take years to train.
Welcome to our cyberpunk future. For a guide, please watch Ghost in the Shell.