The next generation of US Marine Corp helicopters took to the air recently with the successful maiden flight of Sikorsky's CH-53K King Stallion heavy lift helicopter at the company's Development Flight Center in Florida. Known formally as Engineering Development Model-1 (EDM-1), its 30-minute flight at an altitude of 30 ft (9.1 m) included hovering as well as sideward, rearward, and forward maneuvers, and kicks off a three-year, 2,000-hour test program involving four prototypes.
The CH-53K is based on the CH-53E Super Stallion, which is scheduled to be phased out as the 53K enters service. It has similar dimensions to the 53E, though is heavier and sports a narrower fuselage for better shipboard operations. According to Sikorsky, features of the King Stallion include a glass cockpit, fly-by-wire flight controls, enhanced survivability, and better reliability and maintainability.
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When the CH-53K enters service, it will be the heaviest helicopter in the US military inventory. It can carry a crew of five and up to 37 to 55 troops, depending on the seating arrangements. It has almost triple the payload capacity of the 53E, being able to handle 27,000 lb (12,247 kg) over 110 nmi (126 mi, 203 km), and has enough internal space to hold a Humvee. In addition, the helicopter has a US Air Force pallet compatible cargo rail system and a new external cargo handling system.
Lifting all this will depend on three General Electric GE38-1B turboshaft engines cranking 7,500 bhp (5,600 kW) each. These drive the 79 ft (24 m) seven-blade, fourth-generation main rotor with anhedral tips and a low-maintenance elastomeric rotor head. The arrangement is similar to that of the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter, though the King Stallion's gearbox alone is heavier than an entire Blackhawk.
In the air, Sikorsky says that the CH-35K is 20 knots (37 km/h / 23 mph) faster than the CH-53E, with a cruising speed of 170 knots (196 mph, 315 km/h) and range of 460 nmi (529 mi/ 852 km). Combat radius is 110 nmi (126 mi / 204 km) and service ceiling tops out at 14,400 ft (4,380 m). Armament will consist of three .50 calibre machine guns.
The US Marines currently intend to purchase 200 CH-53Ks, with the first set to be operational by 2019. If the full complement survives the inevitable budget battles, there will be eight active duty squadrons, one training squadron, and one reserve squadron.
"EDM-1’s first flight signifies another major milestone for the CH-53K helicopter program," says 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."
The video below introduces the CH-53K.