The program also has ground vehicle assets undergoing endurance testing. At some point, they will have an
initial teardown to make inspections before returning to
endurance testing. Then there is the maintenance and
supportability aspect of it, Torok noted, adding that the
program was “making good progress” with respect to validating support equipment, spare parts, trainers, training
for the courseware, and tech manuals and publications.
The program still is tracking to get the aircraft fleet-ready by 2019, he said.
In the meantime, of course, the legacy fleet of heavy-lift helicopters will have to hold the fort. Vanderborght
said there currently are 147 CH-53E Super Stallions
in the Marine Corps inventory and 28 MH-53E Sea
Dragons in the Navy.
Right now, the fleet is operating at 30 percent availability, he said. That is a bit lower than the program
would like, so officials are implementing a two-step
strategy to boost that rate.
“The first step is reset — putting every airframe through
a nose-to-tail, very detailed inspection and replacement
of components for every aircraft,” Vanderborght said.
“The second part of the strategy is addressing lots of sys-
tem issues. We’ve obtained funding to basically plus-up
support equipment, and we’ve been working very hard
for a year to get publications back to a level where they
Vanderborght said the program had corrected about
750 deficiencies in the publications, and is working on
supply system agility to make sure operators get the
materials in a more timely manner.
In addition, the program is addressing training.
“There’s a lot of training initiatives to get the knowledge beyond where it is now to make sure they get all
the tools they need to sustain the aircraft,” the colonel
said. “The sundown is going to take a while for the legacy airplanes — the sundown for the MH- 53 is 2025,
and for the CH-53E it’s 2029. That could always change
depending on the needs of the Marine Corps and Navy.”
A lot of work remains for the program, but once the
CH-53K arrives, it will be worth it, Vanderborght said.
“This aircraft is all about heavy lift,” he said. “It’s
going to triple the lift capability of the CH-53E. That’s
a significant improvement for the Marine Corps.”
Vanderborght pointed out that equipment has gotten
a lot heavier over the years. Back when he was flying,
he said that the Humvees they were carrying around
weighed 5,500 to 8,500 pounds. Now, the aircraft has to
carry around heavily armored vehicles that weight up to
14,000 pounds. Even the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle is
going to be a lot heavier than the Humvee, so the CH-53K
will be an essential asset to handle that extra weight.
But it is not just the additional lift capability. It also
has more hooks — up to three, compared with two for
legacy aircraft. That means it can pick up three independent loads from a ship and supply three different
areas in one pass.
There also is more room internally, which is a big
deal because pallets delivered by a C- 17 transport aircraft today have to be broken down in order to fit into
a legacy heavy-lift helicopter. Now, troops will be able
to roll a full C- 17 pallet right onto the CH-53K.
The CH-53K will boast better technology, which
means improvement in how it flies. It will be much more
automated than older aircraft, making it safer to operate.
Operators will simply have to hit a button to send the
helicopter to a location and put it in a perfect hover to
allow the ground support team to hook up a load, the
It also will be easier for maintainers to work on. The
CH-53K will have electronic bays where components
are housed. Working on these bays in a CH-53E would
have required a mirror in a flashlight to peer behind
the boxes at plugs and wires, but now they have been
flipped around to make it a lot easier for engineers to
do their work. n
29 WWW.SEAPOWERMAGAZINE.ORG SEAPOWER / JUNE 2016
The CH-53K helicopter achieved its first external lift flight
April 20, successfully carrying a 12,000-pound external
load. CH-53K program is in the midst of flight tests at
Sikorsky Development Center in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Four test aircraft are expected to be flying by summer.