Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin
PARIS AIR SHOW — Germany is expected to release a formal request for proposals for a new heavy lift helicopter this summer, and Sikorsky [LMT] officials consider the opportunity a major one for the company's CH-53K King Stallion helicopter.
The company also is aiming the 53K at a looming competition in Israel to replace legacy CH-53D Yasur helicopters in service with the Israel Defense Forces since 1969. The IDF is set to retire its Yasurs in 2025.
Sikorsky expects that the German heavy lift requirements will be similar to those in place for the U.S. Marine Corps CH-53K with some minor changes.
German and Israeli companies would play a major role in the CH-53K program, if the helicopter wins in those competitions, according to Sikorsky, which has partnered with 12 foreign companies already, including Rheinmetall, which would provide the lion's share of the CH-53K maintenance for the aircraft in Germany, should the German government select the CH-53K as its heavy lift helicopter.
"This is a 21st century helicopter," Dan Schultz, the president of Sikorsky and a former U.S. Marine Corps helicopter pilot, said of the CH-53K on June 18 during a briefing here. "This is not a standard CH-53."
The CH-53K has undergone 1,400 hours of flight testing with the Marines thus far, Schultz said.
Primary benefits of the CH-53K include full authority "fly by wire" controls, its lift capacity at high altitudes and hot conditions, its three double redundant computers, and three cargo hooks unlike legacy CH-53s, which have one.
The CH-53K's General Electric [GE] T408 engine has 65 percent fewer parts than the General Electric T64 engines on previous CH-53s, and the CH-53K's gear box has 40 percent fewer parts than the gear box on other CH-53s, but three times the power, Schultz said.
Sikorsky also says the CH-53K will be an extremely safe and reliable helicopter, as the on board computers will let crews know when maintenance is required and the status of flight envelope conditions.
"The aircraft cues you to the envelope," said John Rucci, a Sikorsky senior experimental test pilot and a former U.S. Marine Corps helicopter pilot. Rucci said that another benefit of the CH-53K is that it was designed with survivability in mind and "took that [ballistic protection] to a new level."
The CH-53K's major competitor in the German and Israeli competitions, as well as other future heavy lift competitions, will likely be the Boeing [BA] CH-47F Chinook.
In April, U.S. Navy acquisition chief James Geurts said negotiations on the CH-53K between the Marines and Sikorsky are in the “final stages.”
During ongoing flight test, the Marine Corps found multiple design deficiencies, including a re-ingestion of exhaust into the helicopter's three engines. The shortcomings have delayed operational testing and pushed entry to service back, though Sikorsky officials note that the aircraft's first operational deployment is still scheduled for 2023. Many of those problems have been fixed and Sikorsky is on the hook for fixing them before deliveries begin on production-representative aircraft, Geurts told Congress in recent testimony.
Schultz said on June 18 that Sikorsky has three solutions in place to fix the re-ingestion of exhaust problem and that the company will implement them this summer. Sikorsky is to brief the U.S. Navy soon on such solutions.
"It looks like this is going to be an easy fix for us, or I don’t want to say anything is easy, but it looks like a really solid fix going forward here early in the summer," Schultz said.