|Sikorsky test pilot John Rucci with the CH-53K ground test vehicle, or GTV|
Stratford, Conn.-based Sikorsky Aircraft 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 Sergei Sikorsky (who is the son of company founder Igor Sikorsky); U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Cindy “CJ” Jaynes; and Col. Robert Pridgen, NAVAIR program manager for aircraft and weapons.
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 Aurora Flight Sciences, BAE, Exelis, Eaton, GE, GKN, Rockwell Collins, Spirit AeroSystems and United Technologies Aerospace Systems.
|Various angles of the CH-53K following the rollout ceremony with officials from the U.S. Marine Corps, Sikorsky and program suppliers. Photos by Andrew Parker|
“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), 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, hover for 30 minutes and return 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 Mil 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 USMC 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.