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.
A United States Marine Corps (USMC) F-18 Hornet crashed in the United Kingdom near Lakenheath air force base on Wednesday 21 October, authorities confirmed. The pilot was killed in the crash. Along with a number of other Hornets, the aircraft had just departed Lakenheath at the start of a trans atlantic flight back to the US.
The aircraft came down at 10.30 hrs local time on uninhabited farmland six miles northwest of Lakenheath. The cause is under investigation. According to US officials, it is unknown if the pilot ejected.
The Hornet belonged to Marine Attack Fighter Squadron (VMFA) 232 ‘Red devils’ and was heading home to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, CA. The aircraft had arrived at Lakenheath from Bahrain the day before. Following the crash, five more Hornets diverted to RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland.
Lakenheath is used as a transit airfield by US forces every once in a while. The base is home to US Air Force F-15s.
In a major milestone for the F-35 program and as expected earlier this week, the first United States Marine Corps (USMC) F-35B squadron has reached Initial Operational Capability (IOC). The announcement was made on 31 July in Washington. General Joseph Dunford, commandant of the Marine Corps, took the decision after weeks of intensive training by the Yuma, California, based squadron. An Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI) was concluded on 17 July.
The unit in question is Fighter Attack Squadron VMFA-121 ‘Green Knights’. It flies ten F-35B Short Take Off Vertical Landing (STOVL) variants of Lockheed Martin’s 5th generation fighter aircraft. IOC for the US Air Force F-35A and US Navy F-35C variants is expected at a later stage. The UK is the only other nation to have ordered the F-35B, with three aircraft flying in the US for testing and training.
VFMA-121 is scheduled to deploy to Japan for the first time in 2017, using its new aircraft. IOC also means that the squadron could be deployed anywhere sooner if needed. In total, the USMC now has trained and qualified more than fifty F-35B pilots and certified about 500 maintenance personnel. The new fighter aircraft replaces the F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B and EA6-B types in USMC-service. VFMA-121 formerly flew the Hornet.
VMFA-121’s transition will be followed by Marine Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211), an AV-8B squadron, which is scheduled to transition next to the F-35B in fiscal year 2016. In 2018, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 (VMFA-122), an F-18 Hornet squadron, will transition.
Today’s announcement comes 14 years after the Lockheed Martin X-35 was chosen over the Boeing X-32 in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) competition. The program since earned much criticism over delays and budget overruns. In total, 400 billion USD has been spent already in what is without a doubt the biggest weapons program ever.
Initial Operational Capability (IOC) appears to be around the corner for the United States Marine Corps (USMC) F-35B fighter jets. A decision awarding IOC to Fighter Attack Squadron VMFA-121 ‘Green Knights’ is expected to be taken by Marine Corps Commandant General Joseph Dunford within days. The squadron is scheduled to deploy to Iwakuni in Japan in 2017, but could be deployed sooner anywhere in the world if needed.
A positive decision will make the Short Take Off Vertical Landing (STOVL) F-35B the first of all three F-35 variants to reach IOC, a major milestone for the F-35 program. VMFA-121 is based in Yuma, Arizona, and has been busy working up to IOC. In June the unit deployed aboard USS Wasp for operational trials. Over the last few months, the aircraft did an ‘impressive job’, said a USMC spokesperson to Reuters press agency. The squadron operates a total of ten F-35Bs.
In what qualifies as ‘better late than never’, the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II has begun ground testing its four-barrel GAU-22/A Gatling gun at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The Joint Strike Fighter Integrated Test Force hopes to start airborne test in September.
The F-35A’s gun was the target of criticism earlier, as development of hardware and software appeared to be moving along anything but fast. The gun fires 25 millimeter rounds, significantly larger than for example the F-16’s and F-15’s 20 millimeter gun. The A-version of the F-35 is the only variant to carry the gun internally. The F-35B and F-35C will both have to carry the gun in a pod, similar to the GAU-12 on the AV-8 Harrier in the United States Marine Corps (USMC), the type the F-35B is replacing.
First test started on 9 June, with shots fired from development aircraft AF-2 on the ground at the Edwards Gun Harmonizing Range. The tests are performed using practice rounds which do not explode on impact. AF-2 underwent four months of instrumentation modifications and had a line production gun installed for this project.
To protest the F-35A’s stealthy characteristics, the gun is completely built in internally. A door hides the barrel until the pilot pulls the trigger.
An operational gun capability will be added with a future block of software, which is in the beginning stages of testing at Edwards. The gun will be further tested with a line production jet sometime next year for full integration.