CH-53K continues hitting milestones in the long awaited King Stallion program.
July 5th 2017, the Lockheed Martin company announced that it’s CH-53K King Stallion program has successfully completed its first long range cross country flight. The flight, which departed Sikorsky’s West Palm Beach Florida facility and ended at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland is being announced as the first of several such flights that are scheduled for the 2017-2018 time frame as the CH-53K flight test program transitions to the flight test facilities at Patuxent River (PAX). The flight, which spanned the distance of approximately 810 miles took a total of six hours with two stops for fuel at Naval Air Station Mayport in Florida and the Marine Corps Air Station New River in North Carolina.
“This first movement of CH-53K flight testing to our customer’s facility denotes that the aircraft have achieved sufficient maturity to begin transitioning the focus of the test program from envelope expansion to system qualification testing,” said Dr. Michael Torok, Sikorsky Vice President, CH-53K Programs. “This has been the plan from the beginning and is another important step toward getting these fantastic aircraft into the hands of the U.S. Marine Corps.”
The four CH-53K Engineering Development Model (EDM) aircraft have already completed over four hundred and fifty hours of flight testing at Sikorsky’s Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach Florida, and continue to push the operational envelope with both internal and external loads. The flight test program will continue its operations as it has from its beginnings under an Integrated Test Team (ITT) that is comprised of Sikorsky, US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) and US Marine Corps (USMC) personnel. The testing is set to continue at both the West Palm Beach Florida location as well as the Patuxent River Maryland location throughout the transition period.
“Bringing the CH-53K flight test program to PAX is an exciting milestone; many of the employees dedicated to its advancement now have the opportunity to work right down the street from it,” said Col. Hank Vanderborght, U.S. Marine Corps program manager for the Naval Air Systems Command’s Heavy Lift Helicopters program, PMA-261.
The CH-53K King Stallion program successfully passed its Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) and achieved a Milestone C decision that provides funding for low rate initial production back in April. The CH-53K provides stunning heavy lift capability with three times the lift of the CH-53E that it replaces. Combined with the increased payload capability and the twelve inch wider internal airframe over its predecessor the CH-53E, the CH-53K enters into new territory for carrying relevant payloads ranging from multiple US Air Force standard 463L pallets to an internally loaded High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) or a European Fennek armored personnel carrier. Additionally the CH-53K can carry up to three independent external loads at once further enhancing its flexibility and efficiency.
Along with additional payload capacity, the CH-53K offers enhanced safety features for the warfighter. These enhancements include full authority fly-by-wire flight controls and mission management that helps reduce pilot workload and allow flight crews to focus on mission execution. Sikorsky went as far to say the CH-53K “all but flies itself.” New features of the K variant include advanced stability augmentation, flight control modes including attitude command-velocity hold, automated approach to a stabilized hover, position hold, and precision tasks in reduced visual environments and tactile cueing that all allow the pilot to focus on the mission at hand.
The US Department of Defense’s Program of Record remains at two hundred CH-53K aircraft, with the first six of the two hundred Program of Record aircraft under contract and scheduled to be delivered next year to the US Marine Corps. Two additional aircraft, the first low rate initial productions are under long lead procurement for parts and materials with deliveries scheduled to start in the year 2020. The US Marine Corps intends to stand up eight active duty squadrons, one training squadron, and one reserve squadron to support the operational requirements.
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