Sikorsky CH-53K. Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin
Two weeks before the Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion makes its international debut at the ILA Berlin Air Show in Germany, the U.S. Marine Corps and Sikorsky said in a program update at Navy League's Sea-Air-Space exposition Monday that the aircraft is on track for initial operational capability (IOC) in 2019.
The aircraft has been in flight-test status since October 2015, having since accumulated more than 800 flight hours across four flight-test aircraft and a flight-test vehicle, Marine Corps Col. Hank Vanderborght said. This week, another test aircraft was transferred to Patuxent River, Maryland, for further testing.
The heavy-lift helicopter achieved an external load lift of 36,000 pounds last month. With a gross weight of 91,000 pounds, Sikorsky said it is the heaviest helicopter it had ever flown. It had also reached a forward-flight speed of 200 kt.
In addition to being the fastest and most powerful variant of the CH-53 platform, the first of which entered service in the 1960s, the King Stallion is also the "smartest," said Vanderborght.
Michael Torok, Sikorsky VP of Marine Corps systems, explained how the aircraft's design incorporated technologies to increase safety and efficiency. Furthermore, development of the aircraft itself was totally new, being a first in the company to be completely paperless.
The aircraft's design incorporates technologies that contribute to decreased maintenance requirements — including low-maintenance rotor head and composite rotor blades. Also new on the model variant are its digital tools, which include an all-glass cockpit, fly-by-wire flight controls and integrated vehicle health management system (IVHMS). The tools provide pilots with ease of operation and safety, Torok said.
"We don't make money by delivering spare parts, we make money by delivering ability and capability," said Torok in explaining the aircraft's fault-detection and fault-isolation capabilities not present in predecessors.
Part of the aircraft's demonstration Sikorsky will be performing in Berlin will include flying "hands off" and hovering by itself, Torok said. The aircraft is capable of performing varying missions including evacuation, troops transport, disaster relief and combat search and rescue.
Sikorsky is offering the CH-53K for Germany's heavy-lift competition to replace its air force's CH-53Gs. Sikorsky is competing with Boeing's Chinook. Israel's air force has also shown interest in the helicopter.
Deployment of the aircraft with the Marine Corps is set for the 2023-2024 time frame. The Marine Corps has ordered 200 of the helicopters for $25 billion.