It has been a long time coming for the Marine Corps, but in just a few months, the service might finally see its CH-53K King Stallion fly for the first time.
The flight comes not without its share of drama. A
recent gearbox issue stalled the program and is only
just now being fixed. Then word came in July that
United Technologies Corp. was selling Sikorsky
Aircraft to Lockheed Martin, although the Navy insists
the latter event will have no effect on the program.
But with all of that hopefully behind, the massive
heavy-lift helicopter finally may take to the skies, and
it could be a game-changer for the Marines.
Col Henry Vanderborght, the program manager for
the CH-53K program, said in a joint Seapower
interview along with Michael Torok, the chief engineer for
Sikorsky’s maritime programs, that the program is busy
wrapping up the test and development phase — also
known as Milestone B — on its way to Milestone C, or
the start of production.
They have done the hard work of taking the top-level
requirements and deriving a design, putting the program
through the systems engineering process. Now they are
just about ready to take the King Stallion for a spin in
about three to four months, Vanderborght said.
After that, it will be on to the
flight test program and then, hopefully, a production decision shortly
after. He believes the production
contract will happen in the second
quarter of fiscal 2017.
But it is the first flight that certainly gives the program something to look forward to.
“It’s very exciting,” Vander-
borght said. “A lot of people have
been working very hard for quite
some time to get there, and the
next key milestone for the pro-
gram we’re all trying to get to is
the IOC [initial operational capa-
bility], and that’s going to be in 2019 and we’re track-
ing basically to that.”
The program is requesting $41.3 million in advance
procurement for fiscal 2016 and $632 million in
research and development funding in advance of start-
ing buys next year at two helicopters.
The program defines IOC as having four aircraft in
the fleet ready to fly missions, with crews trained and
all the support necessary to keep them in the air, hauling equipment and supplies wherever they are needed.
But before that happens, the program will need to
fix the gearbox that failed earlier this year, necessitating a redesign. That caused some delays for the program Torok said have mostly been addressed.
“We had some development issues with the main
gearbox, one of the most complicated parts of the aircraft,” he said. “The good news is that the redesign has
been completed and we are in the last part of validating
that design. It’s already complete, we’ve basically altered
the design, did some risk-reduction testing that proved
that work. … We’ve done some fatigue testing, done
some endurance testing — all of that’s done and the last
full gearbox qualification test that’s required for us to fly
is running right now.”
Awaiting the King Stallion
The Corps’ giant heavy-lifter is nearly ready for its first flight
By DANIEL P. TAYLOR, Special Correspondent
The Marine Corps says the new CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter could
be a “key enabler” in humanitarian and disaster relief operations.
; The first flight for the King Stallion is expected by the end of
; The flight test program would follow first flight, and then a production decision and contract, likely in the second quarter of fiscal 2017.
; The program is on track for initial operational capability — four
aircraft in the fleet ready to fly missions, with crews trained and
all the support in place — by 2019.