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16 March 2016

Second CH-53K Helicopter Joins Flight Test Programme

On 14 March 2016, Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, announced the second CH-53K helicopter has joined the flight test programme and achieved first flight. In addition the first aircraft into the test programme has achieved flight envelope expansion to 120 knots for the US Marine Corps’ (USMC) CH-53K King STALLION heavy lift helicopter programme.

The second CH-53K aircraft achieves its first flight at Sikorsky’s Development Flight Test Center in West Palm Beach, FL.  (Photos: Sikorsky)

"Adding a second aircraft into flight status signifies another milestone for the CH-53K programme," Mike Torok, Sikorsky's vice president of CH-53K Programs, said . "With both aircraft in flight test, our flight envelope expansion efforts will accelerate as we continue to make good progress toward our initial operational test assessment and full aircraft system qualification."

The first and second CH-53K heavy lift helicopter Engineering Development Models (EDM) achieved their first flights on 27 October 2015, and 22 January 2016, respectively. To date these helicopters have achieved over 35 flight hours combined including multiple flights with an active duty USMC pilot at the controls. As the flight test program proceeds, these two flying CH-53K helicopters will be joined by two additional aircraft to complete flight qualification of the USMC's next generation heavy lift capability over an approximately  three-year flight test programme.

The first CH-53K aircraft achieves 120 knots at Sikorsky’s Development Flight Test Center in West Palm Beach, FL.

These first two aircraft are the most heavily instrumented of the EDM and will focus on structural flight loads and envelope expansion. When the other two EDM aircraft join the flight line in 2016 they will focus on performance, propulsion and avionics flight qualification.

"It is exciting to have two CH-53K helicopters flying," Col. Hank Vanderborght, USMC programme manager for Heavy Lift Helicopters, explained. "Our programme continues on pace to deploy this incredible heavy lift capability to our warfighters."

Sikorsky is now developing the CH-53K King STALLION heavy lift helicopter for the USMC. The King STALLION maintains similar physical dimensions with a reduced "footprint" compared to its predecessor, the three-engine CH-53E Super STALLION helicopter, but will more than triple the payload to 27,000lbs over 110nm under "high hot" ambient conditions.

Features of the CH-53K helicopter include a modern glass cockpit; fly-by-wire flight controls; fourth-generation rotor blades with anhedral tips; a low maintenance elastomeric rotor head; upgraded engines; a locking, United States Air Force (USAF) pallet compatible cargo rail system; external cargo handling improvements; survivability enhancements; and improved reliability, maintainability and supportability.

The US Department of Defense's (DoD) programme of record remains at 200 CH-53K aircraft. The USMC intends to stand up eight active duty squadrons, one training squadron, and one reserve squadron to support operational requirements. The USMC indicated it would start buying CH-53K King STALLION helicopters to replace its aging fleet of CH-53E Super STALLIONs. In Fiscal 2017, they plan to purchase two CH-53Ks, and by 2021, that will grow to 14.

Germany is one of the first export candidates. Recently a German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) delegation, led by Lieutenant General (Lt.Gen.) Benedikt Zimmer, visited Palm Beach, FL/USA to take a look at the programme and the airframes. Lt.Gen. Zimmer is head of department procurement German Ministry of Defence (MoD). Sikorsky was thrilled to show Lt.Gen. Zimmer the capabilities of the CH-53K.

A German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) delegation, led by Lt.Gen. Benedikt Zimmer, recently visited Palm Beach, FL to take a look at the CH-53K programme and the airframes.