The Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion helicopter prototype, known as Engineering Development Model-1 (EDM-1), celebrated its first flight on Tuesday 27 October. The flight of the new United States Marine Corps (USMC) heavylift chopper signals the beginning of a 2,000-hour flight test program using four test aircraft. The flight comes after earlier delays over transmission system and gear box issues.
During its 30 minute maiden flight the EDM-1 aircraft performed hover, sideward, rearward and forward flight control inputs while in ground effect hover up to 30 feet above the ground. As the flight test program proceeds, the EDM-1 will be joined by an additional 3 EDM aircraft to fully expand the King Stallion’s flight envelope over the course of the three-year flight test program
“EDM-1’s first flight signifies another major milestone for the CH-53K helicopter program,” said Mike Torok, Sikorsky’s CH-53K Program Vice President. “Having independently tested the aircraft’s many components and subsystems, including integrated system level testing on the Ground Test Vehicle, we are now moving on to begin full aircraft system qualification via the flight test program.”
Features of the CH-53K helicopter include a modern glass cockpit; fly-by-wire flight controls; fourth-generation rotor blades with anhedral tips; a low-maintenance elastomeric rotor head; upgraded engines; a locking, United States Air Force pallet compatible cargo rail system; external cargo handling improvements; survivability enhancements; and improved reliability, maintainability and supportability.
The U.S. Department of Defense’s Program of Record remains at 200 CH-53K aircraft with a Initial Operational Capability in 2019. The Marine Corps intends to stand up eight active duty squadrons, one training squadron, and one reserve squadron to support operational requirements.
Roughly a year after a MH-53 Sea Dragon crashed off the east coast of the United States, the US Navy is still suffering of big capacity problems with its Sikorsky MH-53 Sea Dragon and CH-53 Sea Stallion fleet. Less than half of these “Super Jolly Green Giants” – as they were known in the 1970s when the US Air Force operated olive green painted versions – are operational. The rest remains grounded.
Official numbers were confirmed this week by the US Navy, which had all its CH-53/MH-53 crews undergo inspection trainings. Moreover all choppers, the biggest in US service, need to undergo rewiring which turned out to be a time-costly operation.
On Friday 24 April 2015 sixty-eight of the 177 Super Stallions and Sea Dragons are back in the air, with inspections done on a 118 choppers. It might take another year before the majority of the heavy-lift rotary wing is back into service.
Australian Defence Forces base Darwin, in the Northern Territory facing Asia, is slowly growing into a major US support location. From March/April till September the base will hold 22 rotary wing of the US Marine Corps.
Located slightly north-east of the city of Darwin, the RAAF Base is a so-called forward operating location with the runway shared with Darwin International Airport. It is home to a detachment of Royal Australian Air Force P-3 Orion maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft from No. 92 Squadron as well as air force base units.
USMC Squadrons Squadrons HMH-462, HMH-463, HMLA-367 and HMLA-367 will bring a combined force of eight Bell AH-1W Super Cobras, six Bell UH-1Y Venoms and eight Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallions to the Marine Rotational Force-Darwin, according to current plans. They will train together with RAAF elements and provide the US with a jump spot for possible operations in Asia.
LATEST UPDATE 5 OCTOBER 2014 (CORRECTION READINESS LEVELS) | The air assets of the Bundeswehr, the German Armed Forces, are at an alarming low availability rate, according to recent reports leaked to the public via German Der Spiegel magazine.
According to maintenance journals that the editors of Der Spiegel got their hands a shocking low number of only 8 (!) of an official 109 Eurofighter EF2000s, named Typhoon in British service, are fully ready for all combat tasks. Meaning the German Air Force has to rely much on the remaining, aging and maintenance-sensitive Tornado jets to fulfill its duties. But of these 89 swept-wing fighter-bombers and electronic warfare aircraft, only 36 were fully combat ready at the end of September 2014 according to German media.
The number of available Sikorsky CH-53s dropped vertically to as low as 8 machines this summer, while 67 are on strength with an operational aim of 42. The new NHI Industries NH90 – a European product with tremendous problems while being deployed with Germany units in Afghanistan – is not much better of: 5 of the 33 helicopters are flyable. The German Navy’s Sealynx fleet had only four machines available in September.
A main reason for all these problems is partly a lack of funds, partly technical issues with new equipment.
The current star of German international operations, the old C-160 Transall tactical airlifter that flies into Northern Iraq and provides an air bridge between Senegal and the MINUSMA force in Mali, has an availability of about 50 percent – with 20 to 25 of the 56 machines ready to go at a given time.
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.