Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin
Sikorsky’s CH-53K King Stallion flew a 90-minute orientation test flight — a “first of its kind,” according to the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (Navair). The flight was hosted at Navair's Patuxent River, Maryland, facility for Brig. Gen. Nir Nin-Nun, commander of air support and helicopter division for the Israeli Air Force. It occurred during a scheduled test flight.
Navair said yesterday that Nov. 7, the aircraft performed various operational maneuvers, landings and takeoffs. Nin-Nun was able to get a firsthand look at the CH-53K’s full authority fly-by-wire flight controls. He also completed a familiarization flight in the simulator and safety brief before his ride, Navair said. The flight was arranged based on a government-to-government request from Nin-Nun and made possible through a contract modification between Sikorsky and Navair.
“This is the first time we have flown an international ally in the CH-53K,” said U.S. Marine Corps Col. Hank Vanderborght, program manager for the H-53 Heavy Lift Helicopters program office, PMA-261. “Flights like this give us an opportunity to strengthen relationships with our allies while sharing a taste of America’s next generation heavy lift helicopter.”
In April, multiple U.S. senators and representatives targeted Israel to solicit a CH-53K deal. While cost was not explicitly named a motivator for the members of Congress, successful procurement could bring down the price. PMA-261 works with international partners through the Foreign Military Sales program to potentially meet the international partners’ heavy lift helicopter requirements, Navair said. The more helicopters the government sells to international buyers, the more unit cost is decreased for all users. Navair told R&WI in March that the cost per unit is some $87 million at production, not including other costs. The program has come under scrutiny for its high price tag.
There are four engineering development and manufacturing King Stallion models in test, and one ground test vehicle. Together, they have logged more than 606 flight hours, according to Navair. The program is still on track to reach initial operational capability in 2019, which would have four aircraft with combat-ready crews logistically prepared to deploy. Navair said the U.S. Department of Defense’s program of record still calls for 200 aircraft.