Sikorsky Aircraft rolled out the U.S. Marine Corps’ first CH-53K King Stallion heavy lift helicopter during a ceremony in Florida on Monday.
Though the new K-model shares the same numerical designation as previous CH-53 helicopters, it is in fact a new clean-sheet design.
“The CH-53K aircraft will effectively triple the external load carrying capacity of the CH-53E aircraft — to more than 27,000 pounds over a mission radius of 110 nautical miles,” said Sikorsky president Mick Maurer in a statement provided to USNI News.
“With its 88,000-pound maximum gross weight, powerful new engines, lightweight composite structure, new rotor blades and fly-by-wire flight controls, the CH-53K will have the means to move troops and equipment from ship to shore, and to higher altitude terrain, more quickly and effectively than ever before,” according to the statement
The aircraft’s performance is due in large part to its three General Electric T408 turboshaft engines. The T408 provides 57 percent more power and 20 percent greater fuel efficiency compared to the CH-53E’s older General Electric T64 turboshaft engines. Power is transferred to the rotors via a new split torque design main gearbox.
Sikorsky began powered ground tests of the CH-53K aircraft’s systems, such as rotors, drive, electrical, hydraulic, avionics and flight controls in April. The company expects the new aircraft will make its first flight at the end of 2014. The flight test program is expected to run for about three years.
The Marines hope to declare the CH-53K operational in 2019. Currently, the service expects to order 200 helicopters to fill eight squadrons and a training unit—however, the exact production numbers will depend upon the Pentagon’s budget.