It was nothing but net as Lockheed Martin’s legendary Hercules teamed up with the all-new CH-53K helicopter to mark a first for the King Stallion. In a flight lasting 4.5 hours over the Chesapeake Bay in early April, the CH-53K successfully completed an air-to-air refueling (AAR) test with the help of a U.S. Marine Corp KC-130J Super Hercules aerial refueling tanker. The CH-53K repeatedly demonstrated its ability to capture and “plug” the drogue, withstanding turbulent air and the force on the refueling probe at increased closure rates. This was a first for the King Stallion, but it had the experienced KC-130J to guide the way.
The KC-130J is the current production model and a variant of the C-130 Hercules, produced by the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics team. Known as a true force multiplier, the KC-130J refuels fixed wing, rotary wing and tilt-rotor aircraft as well as conducts rapid ground refueling. The Hercules family of aircraft has served as the standard for tactical air refueling for almost 60 years. The U.S. Marine Corps operates the largest global KC-130J fleet (soon to be flown by seven global operators), which also relies on the KC-130 to refuel its F-35C jets. A hallmark of the KC-130 is its ability to provide AAR to almost every rotary wing platform in the world through its hose and drogue aerial refueling system.
The ability to refuel in midair is critical to expanding the King Stallion’s mission options across all U.S and allied military services. So, when it came to pairing this newbie with a mentor, the Hercules just made sense. With more than 65 years of C-130 operation and customers around the world using the KC-130 for refueling, this freighter knows a thing or two about midair ops. The successful air-to-air refueling test reinforces the superior capabilities of the CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter and its ability to carry more Marines, cargo and equipment over longer ranges and in more challenging environments than any other rotorcraft in the world. As the only fully marinized heavy-lift helicopter, this includes open waters, supporting advanced base operations from ship to shore.
There are six King Stallion in the flight test program with over 1,800 flight hours logged to date. In addition to the refueling test, the team recently completed automatic blade fold testing as part of the preparation for initial sea trials later this year. The team is scheduled to return to the U.S. Army Yuma proving grounds for expanded degrade visual environment testing this summer. While the King Stallion and Hercules are new acquaintances right now, this recent test proves they can operate as a team for the long haul. It’s only a matter of time before we see them flying high together again.