Sikorsky has taken the wraps off its heavy lift helicopter that will serve the U.S. Marine Corps for the next five decades – the CH-53K. In front of a group that consisted of military leadership, members of Congress, suppliers and company employees, USMC Commandant Gen. James T. Amos revealed that “King Stallion” had emerged as the chosen name for the variant – a safe pick that taps into the legacy of the CH-53 Sea Stallion and CH-53E Super Stallion. Also in attendance were Sikorsky President Mick Maurer; United Technologies (Sikorsky parent company) President and CEO Louis Chenevert; Sikorsky’s international ambassador (and son of company founder Igor Sikorsky) Sergei Sikorsky; U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Cindy “CJ” Jaynes; and Col. Robert Pridgen, NAVAIR program manager for aircraft and weapons.
Related: CH-53K Rollout Video
Photos by Andrew Parker
The technological advancements of the K are many – fly by wire controls, 7,500-shp GE T408 engines, composite airframe and structures, updated avionics from Rockwell Collins, a new transmission and fourth-generation rotor blades (including seven on the main rotor).
Also numerous are the suppliers for the program, including majors GE, Rockwell Collins, GKN, Exelis, BAE, Spirit AeroSystems, Aurora Flight Sciences, Eaton and United Technologies Aerospace Systems.
According to Sikorsky, the CH-53K represents one of the initial all-digital helicopter designs, and the first for Sikorsky. While the company states that the CH-53K is an “all new” design, there are a couple things that aren’t brand new, specifically the basic airframe design from the CH-53E that dates back to the 1980s and the CH-53A which first became operational in 1966. But Sikorsky engineers explained during a tour of the production facilities in West Palm Beach that the aircraft was designed in a 3D virtual reality lab at Sikorsky’s headquarters in Stratford, Conn. They added that during design and production meetings, engineers utilize tablets and other electronic devices instead of paper, which has streamlined the process, saving time and money.
Sikorsky was able to “correct issues long before discovery and expensive rework on the assembly line,” noted Maurer during the May 5 ceremony.
“Heavy” is the operational word here – the CH-53K’s gearbox assembly alone (around 12,500 to 13,000 lbs) weighs more than an entire Black Hawk (at roughly 10,600 lbs empty weight). The maximum gross weight of the CH-53K clocks in at 88,000 lbs (compared to 73,500 lbs for the CH-53E), while offering more than triple the external load capacity, with the ability to deliver up to 27,000 lbs on a sling load to a distance of 110 nm from a host ship, while hovering for 30 minutes and returning to the ship. Everything about the CH-53K screams big. In fact, the only other helicopter in the world that is larger is the Russian Helicopters-built Mi-26.
The rollout marks the beginning of the ground test phase, followed by first flight in late 2014. The maiden flight will signal the start of three years of flight tests, culminating with the beginning of operational service sometime in 2019. The CH-53K is part of a System Development and Demonstration (SDD) contract awarded in April 2006. The contract is currently worth around $4 billion.
Related: Airframe News