LATEST UPDATE 6 MAY 2014 | It is far from flying, but looking more and more like a real helicopter. Sikorsky has started to begin full system testing of its newest version of the CH-53 Sea Stallion: the CH-53K King Stallion. It will be the heaviest helicopter ever produced by the company and – once in service – the biggest for the American armed forces.
At its plant in Stratford, Connecticut, the manufacturer has no fitted all seven main rotor blades and four tail rotor blades to the Ground Test Vehicle (GTV). Powered “Light-Off” with rotor blades spinning follows a “Bare Head” (without blades) test phase of the GTV aircraft’s systems powered by its three GE 7,500 horsepower engines. It is the beginning of a two-year test program of the rotor blades, transmission, engines, and all subsystems while the GTV is anchored to the ground.
GE Aviation’s all-new T408 engine plays a key role in the increased capability of the CH-53K helicopter. Compared to the CH-53E aircraft’s T64 turboshaft powerplant, the three new engines provide 57 percent more power for approximately 20 percent lower specific fuel consumption. To convert the extra engine power into torque and shaft horsepower within a similarly-sized main gearbox, Sikorsky developed a new transmission that efficiently transfers the engine power to the CH-53K helicopter’s main rotors.
Flight test program
The CH-53K will also go through a three-year flight test program. In the end, the Super Stallion should be able to lift 88,000 pounds (39,916 kg) of cargo max. with an external load. The first ever flight of the four test choppers to be produced is expected in the end of 2014. The four flight test machines will make about 500 flight hours, while other tests continue on the GTV.
The US Marine Corps plans to purchase at least 120 of the CH-53Ks, to equip ten squadrons including one training and one reserve. The first machine in USMC livery war revealed on 5 May 2014, together with the new official name for the K-model: the King Stallion as successor to the Super Stallion (E-model) that followed the Sea Stallion. What’s next? A fellow aviation enthousiast already proposed via Twitter to name the next version the Emperor Stallion.