Roll-out of the first CH-53K helicopter, 2014
The Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion heavy transport helicopter is currently operating in the US Marine Corps and in a number of other countries. To replace it, a new CH-53K King Stallion machine was created. By now, the development company has managed to launch mass production and receive the first contracts. The delivery of finished machines to customers will begin this year.
Looking for a replacement
The CH-53E helicopters entered service in the early eighties. In the interests of the ILC and the Navy, approx. 180 of these machines. Most of this equipment still remains in service and solves the assigned tasks, but its operation is difficult due to the development of a resource and general obsolescence.
At the beginning of the 2000s, the USMC came up with a proposal to extend the resource and modernize the CH-53E cash. However, for a number of reasons, such plans were not implemented. In the middle of the decade, the Sikorsky company (now part of Lockheed Martin) offered the Corps a deeply modernized version of the helicopter with the working designation CH-53X. This project proposed the construction of new helicopters with a number of major changes in the design and equipment composition.
Experienced helicopters on trial, 2016
In the spring of 2006, the Pentagon awarded Sikorsky an order for the design and subsequent construction of helicopters. The new version received the official designation CH-53K, and later it was named King Stallion. In accordance with the contract, flight tests were to begin in 2011, and by the middle of the decade it was planned to start mass production. Until 2021, Sikorsky was supposed to build 156 helicopters with a total cost of $ 18.8 billion.
In 2007, the terms of the contract were revised. Now the ILC demanded to build 227 helicopters. However, during the same period, the development of the project ran into technical difficulties and was behind schedule. For example, it was possible to build an incompletely equipped helicopter for ground tests only by the end of 2012, and the first flights were postponed to 2015-16. In addition, the estimated cost of serial construction has changed, and the order has been reduced.
Ground tests of the first CH-53K began only in January 2014. The first flight took place on October 27, 2015. The next two and a half years were spent on versatile testing before being handed over to the customer. In parallel with this, three more experimental vehicles were built. In May 2018, the first King Stallion went to one of the ILC parts for additional testing and trial operation. At this stage, the project again faced technical problems, which resulted in the next postponements.
The delay in work, as well as the “outstanding” backlog of the original schedule and the increase in cost were mainly associated with the need for a serious revision of the original project and the introduction of a number of solutions and components. The upgrade to CH-53K affected all the key components of the helicopter, which affected the complexity of testing and fine-tuning, but made it possible to obtain an increase in the main characteristics.
The glider has undergone noticeable processing. Its main part was expanded to increase the available volumes. So, the ILC demanded that an HMMWV car could be driven into a helicopter. The width of the cab was increased by 1 foot, resulting in a 15% increase in volume. New side sponsons of reduced width were developed, due to which the growth of the fuselage diameter is compensated and the overall dimensions of the vehicle are reduced. Some of the metal parts of the airframe were replaced with lighter composite analogs.
The power plant has been radically redesigned. The helicopter receives three General Electric T408 turboshaft engines with a maximum power of 7500 hp. each. A new gearbox and an improved rotor hub have been developed to match the increased power of the engines. Introduced new composite rotor blades. The tail rotor and its drive have undergone some revision.
For the first time in the CH-53 family, the so-called. glass cockpit with display of all information on multifunctional displays. The old control wiring has been replaced with a flyback system. Due to automatic control and monitoring systems, the crew was reduced to 4 people.
The helicopter receives a modern self-diagnostics system borrowed from commercial technology projects. The system monitors the condition of components and assemblies, and also transmits data to the ground service complex. The latter includes elements of artificial intelligence capable of making predictions and issuing operational recommendations. All this simplifies and reduces the cost of operation.
As a result of this modernization, the overall dimensions of the helicopter remain the same, although the parking height increases from 8.46 to 8.66 m. The maximum take-off weight has increased to 39.9 tons against 33.3 tons for the CH-53E.
Newly designed seats for 30 people are installed in the cab. Loading of 24 lying wounded is possible. Inside the fuselage, it is allowed to transport goods with a maximum mass of up to 15.9 tons. In particular, it is possible to load 463L type pallets and standard KMP pallets. It is possible to convert the helicopter into a tanker; for this, a tactical refueling system with three tanks of 3 cubic meters each is installed in the cargo compartment. The maximum load on the external sling is 16.3 tonnes on the center hook. Additional external suspension points allow loads up to 11.4 tons.
It differs from its predecessor CH-53K with increased flight characteristics. The maximum speed has been increased from 280 to 310 km / h. Combat radius with a rated load of 12.25 tons – 200 km. There is the possibility of refueling in flight to increase the range.
Pilot Training Simulator CH-53K
Sikorsky received the first contract for the serial production and supply of CH-53K King Stallion helicopters back in 2006. Subsequently, its terms were revised several times, and now we are talking about the supply of 200 helicopters with a total value of 23.18 billion dollars. built for testing, transferred to the ILC and now provide training for pilots. Together with the helicopters, it is planned to supply training complexes. The first such product was handed over to the customer last year.
According to the current plans of the Pentagon, no later than September 2021, the ILC will receive the first serial production helicopter at a low rate. In the future, production growth is planned, and in 2023-24. the re-equipment of the first squadron will be completed. Production of the CH-53K will continue until the end of the twenties. Due to it, eight combat squadrons, one training and one reserve squadron, will be modernized. These units are now flying the obsolete CH-53E.
Since the late sixties, the Israeli Air Force has operated CH-53D Yasur helicopters and regularly carry out repairs and upgrades. In 2009, the Israeli military department showed interest in the CH-53K project and expressed its willingness to buy such equipment – after the completion of the development and launch of the series.
Not so long ago, Israel studied the available offers and chose a new King Stallion for purchase. On February 25, it was announced that the decision to purchase such equipment had been made, and a real contract would appear in the near future. According to various sources, the Israeli Defense Ministry can buy 20-25 helicopters. This is enough to completely replace the existing Yasuras.
In early 2018, Germany announced its intention to replace the cash CH-53G with a new heavy helicopter. It was planned to purchase at least 40 vehicles with a total cost of approx. 4 billion euros. Over the next years, the Bundeswehr studied proposals from potential suppliers, including Sikorsky / Lockheed Martin.
In September 2020, the German command announced the termination of the current competition due to the excessive complexity and high cost. Now it is planned to revise the conditions and hold a new tender. It is not known whether the CH-53K helicopter will participate in it and whether it will be able to win.
Unlike its predecessors, the CH-53K is capable of transporting the main army vehicle.
At various times, there were reports of interest in the CH-53K from other foreign countries. So far, however, things have not gone beyond news. Nothing is known about the negotiations, no supply contracts have been signed. Perhaps this situation will change in the future, and the Sikorsky / Lockheed-Martin company will build new helicopters not only for the United States and Israel.
The story continues
The observed processes show that the CH-53 family of helicopters, despite its considerable age, still retains the potential for modernization. The new King Stallion project offers the replacement of key units and allows you to get another increase in performance, as well as extend the service life.
The increase in performance provided by the latest upgrade has an interesting consequence. In terms of carrying capacity, the CH-53K has bypassed all major competitors and is now the second in the world, second only to the Russian Mi-26. In addition, it turns out to be the heaviest and most cargo-lifting helicopter, suitable for basing on ships.
The USMC and the Israel Army have operated Sikorsky CH-53G / E helicopters for several decades. Now they are planning to re-equip the helicopter parts with modern CH-53K King Stallion machines. Newly built helicopters will be able to serve for several more decades – and thus will determine the appearance of the aircraft fleet of customer structures for a long time to come.