The CH-53K King Stallion completed five full days and nights of envelope expansion testing at sea in the Atlantic last month. The aircraft continued testing in a modern naval environment following initial successful sea trials in June, 2020. A diverse team of 105 personnel from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Two One (HX-21), H-53 Heavy Lift Helicopters Program Office (PMA-261), Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461 (HMH-461), Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron One (VMX-1), and Sikorsky pilots, engineers, technicians and maintainers successfully accomplished this second set of sea trials for the CH-53K. Sea trial testing took place aboard the USS Arlington, a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock (LPD24), operated by the U.S. Navy.
“The latest sea trials were another great success for the CH-53K program. Data analysis has shown a greater CH-53K LPD launch and recovery envelope than that of the CH-53E,” said Col. Kate Fleeger, PMA-261 program manager.
“We made the stars align for us with months of exhaustive planning and tireless collaboration. The joint team overcame numerous challenges, such as tumultuous seas, and their hard work and dedication will provide the fleet with greater flexibility to launch and recover the CH-53K in more severe weather conditions and mission scenarios where an LPD has limited steering. Ultimately, the results of these tests will enable the CH-53K to provide critical ship-to-shore heavy lift capability for future Marine Expeditionary Unit deployments,” said Sarah Naiva, Assistant Program Manager for Test and Evaluation for the CH-53K.
Sea trials are a series of tests to evaluate the performance of the aircraft at sea. Tests performed during the event included: launch and recovery; rotor start and shutdown; blade fold; and shipboard compatibility testing – all in increasing wind speed and varying wind directions relative to the aircraft. Ship compatibility testing includes towing the aircraft around the deck and in the hangar, performing maintenance while aboard the ship, ensuring the aircraft fits in all the locations it needs to around the ship deck and hangar and evaluating chain/tie-down procedures. The Marine Corps continues to execute its transition from the CH-53E to the CH-53K and is on schedule to declare Full Operational Capability in FY2029.
The Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion (Sikorsky S-95) is a heavy-lift cargo helicopter designed and produced by Sikorsky Aircraft. The King Stallion is an evolution of the long running CH-53 series of helicopters which have been in continuous service since 1966, and features three uprated 7,500 shp (5,590 kW) engines, new composite rotor blades, and a wider aircraft cabin than its predecessors. It is the largest and heaviest helicopter in the U.S. military. The United States Marine Corps plans to receive 200 helicopters at a total cost of $25 billion. In May 2018, the first CH-53K was delivered to the Marine Corps. On 22 April 2022, it was declared to have passed initial operational capability. Israel has also reportedly ordered the type; other potential export customers include Japan and Germany.