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Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion

United States (1981)

Detailing the development and operational history of the Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion Super Heavy-Lift Transport Helicopter.

 Entry last updated on 6/23/2017; Authored by Staff Writer; Content ©

  Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion  
Picture of Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion Super Heavy-Lift Transport Helicopter

The Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion is a modified heavy-lift helicopter based on the Vietnam War-era CH-53 Sea Stallion with improvements throughout.

The mammoth Sikorsky CH-53E "Super Stallion" heavy-lift transport helicopter was designed from the original CH-53 "Sea Stallion" to a new United States Marine Corps requirement of the late 1960s. Development encompassed the 1970s to which the aircraft was formally inducted into the American military inventory in 1981. The CH-53E continues to serve as of this writing (Nov 2013) though a much improved and refined form is undergoing work to become the Sikorsky CH-53K "Super Stallion". The CH-53K will primarily serve US Marines in the same heavy-lift role as the current CH-53E mark.

The heavy-lift classification of the CH-53E dictates a requirement for a very large airframe and considerable power output to which the Super Stallion does not disappoint. Make no mistake, the aircraft is a large airframe consisting of clean lines, streamlining and sizeable proportions. The fuselage is slab-sided though incorporates a rounded nose section and integral tail stem. The front sports sections of transparent panels to promote good visibility out of the cockpit. The passenger/cargo cabin is just aft of the cockpit and sits under the main rotor housing and third of three engine installations. The remaining two engines are held outboard of each fuselage side. The aircraft utilizes a raised tail stem to allow access to the internal cargo hold. Capacity includes seating for up to 55. Beyond its passenger-hauling capabilities, the CH-53E is cleared to haul some 30,000lbs of internal stores and an additional 36,000lbs slung underneath the aircraft (8x8 armored vehicle or 155mm towed artillery gun being common examples). A typical operating crew is five personnel made up of two pilots, a crew chief (doubling as the right-side machine gunner), a dedicated left-side machine gunner and a dedicated tail gunner found at the loading ramp. Typical armament includes 2 x 12.7mm GAU-15/A series heavy machine guns at the side windows and a single 12.7mm GAU-21 series heavy machine gun system at the loading ramp. Self-defense is furthered by the carrying of an integrated chaff-and-flare dispenser system to thwart incoming radar/missile threats.
Picture of the Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion Super Heavy-Lift Transport Helicopter
Picture of the Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion Super Heavy-Lift Transport Helicopter

The CH-53E is powered through 3 x General Electric T64-GE-416/416A series turboshaft engines delivering 4,380 shaft horsepower each. This provides the aircraft with a maximum speed of 195 miles per hour and a cruise speed of 170 miles per hour. Her overall ferry range is an impressive 1,140 miles with an operational range of approximately 620 miles. The aircraft can reach operating ceilings of 18,500 feet through a 2,500 feet-per-minute rate-of-climb. As a three, engined configuration, the two primary mounts are found in nacelles to the fuselage sides while the third installation is on the fuselage roof, visible from the portside of the aircraft. The engines drive the large-diameter main rotor which sits atop a short mast on the fuselage roof. The main rotor is made up of a seven-blade unit. The triple-engine configuration is also responsible for driving a four-bladed tail rotor unit found on the portside face of the vertical tail fin. The tail rotor serves as in "anti-torque" function to counter the natural forces generated by the main rotor spin.

Long range is critical to a heavy-lift system and the CH-53E is appropriately outfitted with a retractable fixed fuel probe along the lower right side of her nose to accept in-flight refueling from a tanker or naval surface ship. This quality drastically improves the strategic value of the CH-53E system in any theater of operation. Side sponsons also contain expanded fuel stores internally and allow for special mission equipment to be carried as well.

Dimensions of the CH-53 include a length of 99 feet, with a rotor diameter of 79 feet and height of 27 feet, 9 inches.

The CH-53E was born in a 1967 initiative by the USMC to bring about a new heavy-lift solution beyond that of their existing CH-53D models. Already at work on an improved version of that same mark, Sikorsky sold the USMC on the S-80 model in 1968. Prototypes became "YCH-53E" and led to a first flight on March 1st, 1974. Compared with the original CH-53 of Vietnam War fame, the revised CH-53E brought about use of a third engine and added a seventh blade to its enlarged main rotor system to increase performance and handling considerably. The YCH-53E prototypes were then finalized into the definitive CH-53E "Super Stallion" form which netted 170 production examples with service entry in 1981. An additional 50 examples were built from the revised Sikorsky S-80M model under the MH-53E "Sea Dragon" designation to serve as mine-countermeasures platforms with the US Navy. The VH-53F designation was reserved for a proposed, though ultimately unbuilt, presidential VIP passenger transport. Another reserved designation became Sikorsky S-80E which was to designate transport airframes for export customers - none were produced. Similarly, Sikorsky S-80M designated export-minded mine-countermeasures versions, eleven of these taken on by Japan.

In all, 234 CH-53Es have been produced to date (2013). The CH-53E also serves as the basis for the heavily-modified, aforementioned CH-53K "Super Stallion" in development for the USMC with an expected introduction date sometime in 2018. The CH-53K will feature an enlarged cargo/passenger cabin area, all-new engines and a new composite main rotor blade and continue the heavy-lift helicopter role for the USMC for decades to come.

There are currently (2013) only two worldwide operators of the CH-53E - the United States and Japan. For the US, the CH-53E serves both the United States Marine Corps and Navy with USMC usage across nine squadrons and USN usage across four squadrons. CH-53Es in Japanese service fly with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF). The platforms have proven very valuable across various mission scopes though their maintenance requirements are high as are operating costs.

During her service life, the CH-53E has been deployed to Beirut, Somalia, the Persian Gulf (Operation Desert Storm), Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom) and Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom).
Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion Specifications
National Flag Graphic
United States
Year: 1981
Type: Super Heavy-Lift Transport Helicopter
Manufacturer(s): Sikorsky - USA
Production: 234
Supported Mission Types
Ground Attack
Close-Air Support
Airborne Early Warning
Electronic Warfare
Aerial Tanker
Passenger Industry
VIP Travel
Business Travel
Special Forces
Crew: 5
Length: 99.08 ft (30.2 m)
Width: 78.74 ft (24.00 m)
Height: 27.76 ft (8.46 m)
Empty Weight: 33,226 lb (15,071 kg)
MTOW: 73,414 lb (33,300 kg)

Installed Power
3 x General Electric T64-GE-416/416A turboshaft engines delivering 4,380 shaft horsepower each driving 7-bladed main rotor and 4-bladed tail rotor.

Standard Day Performance
Maximum Speed: 196 mph (315 kph; 170 kts)
Maximum Range: 1,289 mi (2,075 km; 1,120 nm)
Service Ceiling: 18,504 ft (5,640 m; 3.50 mi)
Rate-of-Climb: 2,500 ft/min (762 m/min)

2 x 12.7mm XM218 heavy machine gun in window mounts.
1 x GAU-21 (M3M) heavy machine gun on rear loading ramp.

Operators List
Japan; United States

Series Model Variants
• CH-53 "Sea Stallion" - Original USMC Family Series on which the CH-53E Super Stallion is based on; two engines only.
• CH-53E "Super Stallion" - Base Series Designation; third engine added for improved capabilities.
• CH-53K "King Stallion" - In-development modernized USMC variant; expected operational capability in 2019.
• MH-53E "Sea Dragon" - US Navy long-range airborne minesweeper.
• S-80 - Sikorsky Company Model Designation

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