After years of delays, the CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift cargo helicopter finally had its first flight last October. But are its problems truly
It’s no small question. The Navy is depending on
this new asset to take over for the aging heavy-lift
fleet, but problems with the aircraft’s gearbox caused
delays and forced the program to push back milestones. However, program officials say the problems
have been resolved.
“We’ve actually identified all the fixes,” Mike Torok,
Sikorsky’s vice president of CH-53K programs, said in
a joint interview with CH-53K program manager Col.
Hank Vanderborght. “We were doing the last piece of
testing, and those fixes are all implemented on all the
In fact, to anyone who is involved in the program,
the gearbox is old news. But it certainly left its mark
on the development of the aircraft. The Government
Accountability Office noted that the King Stallion’s
low-rate production decision was delayed to February
2017, an eight-month shift, because of technical issues.
The program had to redesign
components in the gearbox after
encountering problems with the
way it was originally designed —
but, fortunately, there was nothing
wrong with the core technology,
“The gearbox, from the begin-
ning of this program, was one
of the technologies critical to the
program’s success,” he said. “It was
really from the peripheral aspects
of the gearbox — some compo-
nents that held the gears in place
— and not really critical drivers of
It shows how important it is to
be “100 percent correct” when you
go into flight test, Torok noted, adding that it is essen-
tial to have “attention to detail in every aspect of every
task” on such an important program.
“And I think the other lesson is to react quickly and
respond,” he said.
Currently, the program is in the midst of flight
tests at Sikorsky Development Center in West Palm
Beach, Fla. There are two aircraft in the test program,
which recently passed 60 flight hours. Four flight test
CH-53Ks are being built under a $435 million contract
Sikorsky was awarded in June 2013. The Marine Corps
intends to buy 200 of the aircraft under a program of
record valued at more than $25 billion.
“Last week, we did our first external lift, and we
are flying again with an external load and expanding
the envelope,” Torok said. “The other two aircraft are
getting ready to go into flight test. One has been in the
flight center for a while now — we’ll fly that aircraft in
six to eight weeks or so. And then the fourth aircraft
will be delivered to the flight center in the next few
weeks. That will fly in the summer, so by the summer
we’ll have all four aircraft up in the air.”
Ready for Heavy Duty
With gearbox problems behind it, the CH-53K
looks toward its fast-approaching arrival in the fleet
By DANIEL P. TAYLOR, Special Correspondent
All About Heavy Lift
The CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopters will replace
the CH-53E Super Stallions used by the Marine Corps and the
MH-53E Sea Dragons operated by the Navy.
n The program now has two aircraft in the flight test program,
which recently passed 60 flight hours.
n A low-rate production decision for the CH-53K is expected
in February 2017 and the aircraft is expected to be fleet-ready
n Meanwhile, the legacy helicopters in the Navy and Marine
Corps fleets are undergoing a thorough maintenance program to
keep the MH- 53 flying until 2025 and the CH-53E until 2029.