Lockheed Martin on Tuesday announced the CH-53K King Stallion is ready for low rate initial production. The Pentagon is looking to buy at least 200 of these heavy lift helicopters, which at a unit price of 85 million USD is almost as costly as the F-35.
Aircraft maturity has been established with well over 400 flight hours achieved, Lockheed Martin reports. An initial Operational Assessment by the United States Marine Corps (USMC) in October 2016 fully established the ability of the King Stallion to achieve critical mission flight and ground scenarios in the hands of active duty Marines.
The CH-53K King Stallion provides heavy lift capability with three times the lift of the CH-53E that it replaces. With more than triple the payload capability and a 12-inch wider internal cabin compared to the predecessor, the King Stallion’s payload has increased significantly in size and volume. The CH-53K also offers enhanced safety features, including full authority fly-by-wire flight controls and mission management that reduce pilot workload and enable the crew to focus on mission execution. Other features include advanced stability augmentation, flight control modes that include attitude command-velocity hold, automated approach to a stabilized hover, position hold and precision tasks in degraded visual environments, and tactile cueing that all permit the pilot to focus on the mission at hand.
Further, the CH-53K King Stallion has improved reliability and maintainability that exceeds 89 percent mission reliability with a smaller shipboard logistics footprint than the legacy CH-53E.
The US Department of Defense’s need remains at 200 CH-53K aircraft, Lockheed Martin claims. The first six of the 200 are under contract and scheduled to start delivery next year to the USMC. Two additional aircraft, the first LRIP aircraft, are under long lead procurement for parts and materials, with deliveries scheduled to start in 2020.
The Marine Corps intends to stand up eight active duty squadrons, one training squadron, and one reserve squadron to support operational requirements.
The first US F-35 Lightning II aircraft to be based outside the US, arrived in Japan on 18 January. Jets belonging to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 touched down at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni near Hiroshima, beginning the squadron’s permanent basing here. Interestingly, the journey from the US took the F-35’s over a week to complete.
The aircraft involved are of the vertical short take off & landing variant and within the United States Marine Corps (USMC) replaces the AV-8B Harrier, F/A-18 Hornet and EA-6B Prowler. The USMC was the first to reach to reach Initial Operational Capability (IOC) on Lockheed Martin’s new fighter jet.
“The arrival of the F-35B embodies our commitment to the defense of Japan and the regional-security of the Pacific,” said Maj. Gen. Russell Sanborn, the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing Commanding General. “We are bringing the most advanced technology to the Pacific to respond to the wide range of missions we take part in and provide greater support to our regional allies.”
Prior to arriving in Iwakuni, VMFA-121 was stationed with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at MCAS Yuma, Arizona. During the squadron’s time in Arizona, the aircraft successfully participated in numerous exercises and training events. “Our training in the U.S. has prepared us well for our mission here in Japan and we are very honored to have such a warm welcome,” said U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. J. T. Bardo, commanding officer of VMFA-121.
No comment was given on why the flight from the US to Japan took over a week to complete.
The United States Marine Corps on Monday 25 January stated it is sending two Lockheed Martin F-35Bs Lightning II to the UK this summer. The fighter jets will appear at two airshows in July, being the Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford and the Farnborough International Airshow. The F-35’s appearance will make up for a ditched attempt two years ago.
The two airshows are both held in July and should also see participation of US Air Force F-35A variants. A total of five aircraft are expected to cross the Atlantic. The USMC reached Initial Operation Capability (IOC) in July 2015, whereas the US Air Force is still working towards IOC.
The attempt to send jets to the same airshows in 2014 failed because of a problem in the engine that grounded all jets. The grounding was the result of a fire in an F-35 at Eglin Air Force Base in June 2014. An appearance would have meant the international airshow debut for the F-35.
Despite today’s announcement, it could very well be the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) that debuts the F-35A on its first international airshow. In May, the RNLAF plans to fly one of its two F-35As to the Netherlands for noise tesing and an airshow at Leeuwarden airbase, although nothing is certain yet. More on the Dutch visit is in this feature story at Airheadsfly.com.
What is certain, is the presence of two F-35As in Europe already. They are two aircraft produced at FNM Aeronautics’ Final Assembly and Check-Out (FACO) facility in Cameri, Italy. The first of those made its first flight on 7 September 2015. The Italians will fly at least one F-35 transatlantic to the US next month and have no known plans for participation in European airshows yet.
© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image: The F-35B is a Short Takeoff/Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant of the F-35. (Image © Tom Reynolds / Lockheed Martin)
UPDATED 17 January | Rescue workers in Hawaii are still searching for two United States Marine Corps (USMC) CH-53 helicopters and their occupants following an apparent colission between the helos over the Pacific on Friday 15 January.
Update: No trace of the helicopters was found until Sunday 17 January. The Pentagon has released the names of those missing, while the search continues.
The two giant CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter are part of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and are based at Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay. Both were on a routine training mission when they apparently collided just before midnight local time. Each helicopter carried six persons on board.
Debris is said to have been spotted, but no sign of survivors yet. Also, no mayday call was heard from the helicopters.
© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image: Two Sikorsky Super Stallion are missing off Hawaii. (Image © USMC / Sgt. Lillian Stephens)