Home » Aviation » Marines’ CH-53K Lifts 20,000-Pound External Load As Tests Progress Ahead Of Schedule


Marines’ CH-53K Lifts 20,000-Pound External Load As Tests Progress Ahead Of Schedule

The U.S. Marine Corps' newest helicopter, the CH-53K, completed its first external load flight test carrying a 20,000 lb. load May 26 at Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation's Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach, Fla. Sikorsky photo.

The U.S. Marine Corps’ newest helicopter, the CH-53K, completed its first external load flight test carrying a 20,000 lb. load May 26 at Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation’s Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach, Fla. Sikorsky photo.

The Marine Corps is advancing through its test plan for the Sikorsky CH-53K heavy lift helicopter faster than previously planned, with the service successfully carrying a 20,000-pound load externally for the first time on May 26.

The heavy lift helicopter program office at Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), PMA-261, began with lifting a 12,000-pound external load and moved up to the 20,000-pound load late last month– just shy of the weight of a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV). The program office will continue testing at that weight, flying the helicopter at higher speeds and expanding the flight envelop before eventually moving to a 27,000-pound lift, NAVAIR spokesman Billy Ray Brown told USNI News.

During a briefing at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition 2016 in May, Lockheed Martin Vice President of CH-53K Programs Michael Torok said that external load lifts were set to start this month but began early, in April, instead.

At least one of two operational tests – a 27,000-pound external lift and carrying 12,000 pounds externally for 110 nautical miles – will begin by the end of the calendar year, Torok and PMA-261 program manager Col. Henry Vanderborght said at the May 16 briefing.

The helicopter, which replaces the aging CH-53E and should reach initial operational capability in 2019, has already flown 140 knots without carrying an external load, has reached 80 knots with an external load and has gone through live fire testing and component testing to prove it meets survivability requirements.

Torok said in the briefing that the program office has already bought long lead materials to support the first two low-rate initial production (LRIP) lots and that the program hopes to hit Milestone C a year from now, when the program can officially sign its first LRIP contract to begin production. NAVAIR already reviewed the production readiness of the industrial base, and a final Milestone C decision by Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall will be based on test results and a final production readiness review, he added.

Vanderborght called the helo a “significant step increase in capability for the Marine Corps,” with more than three times the lifting capability in the same sized aircraft. The aircraft will also be more reliable, Torok said, thanks to an automated logistics system that monitors aircraft performance, requests feedback from the pilots and funnels the information to the maintainers to make decisions about ordering spares.

Torok said Germany has shown interest in the helicopter to replace its CH-53Gs, and Lockheed-owned Sikorsky is in talks with the country to determine whether the 53K can meet that military’s needs.

In the U.S. Marine Corps, Brown, the NAVAIR spokesman, said that the CH-53K will start replacing the CH-53E in 2019, and the first four fully operational aircraft – complete with logistics, personnel, and training – should be in place later that same year.

  • publius_maximus_III

    Sikorsky invented the helicopter. It’s good that his successors have continued to make improvements to help safe guard our nation’s freedoms. God Bless America.

    • On Dre

      Russian immigrant it should be noted!

      • publius_maximus_III

        Yes, Dre, as was my own dear step-grandfather, a Cossack cavalry officer who escaped slaughter by the Reds through Turkey following the Russian Revolution. He traveled to the Land of Opportunity courtesy of the American Red Cross helping refugees in Constantinople, entering through Ellis Island in NYC, along with many other White Russians (a term used then for supporters of the Czar, not meant as a racial comment).

  • draeger24

    Awesome…hope they stay ahead of sked….

    • USNVO

      You mean stay ahead of the revised schedule. They are already several years behind the hopelessly optimistic schedule they started from.

      • draeger24

        well, I did use to use the MV-22 sked when briefing Congressional staffs, at the time, 25 years behind sked, and 12 billion over budget, when defending the ASDS…lol.

        • USNVO

          Virtually no major program has stayed on schedule because they are not allowed to put in contingency time when they start a program. So, as soon as something unexpected comes up, and there is always unexpected issues like the gearbox issues on the 53K when you are pushing the envelope, there goes your schedule. On a positive note, the MH-53K hasn’t burned up on the tarmac yet, so it gots that over the ASDS.

          • draeger24

            well, we told the Chain of Command that those L-ion batteries were not ready for use….unfortunately, they didn’t listen….

  • what a great machine…GO KING STALLION!!