The Sikorsky CH-53K "King Stallion" represents the latest incarnation of the famous large American CH-53 military helicopter series with origins dating back to the early 1960s. In its initial form (CH-53A) for the United States Marine Corps (USMC), the type was evolved into a myriad of other role-specific platforms that went on to see operations with the United States Air Force (USAF), the United States Navy (USN), and United States Special Forces groups. The mammoth helicopter made a name for itself as a multi-bladed, heavy-lift system that could be adapted for many battlefield requirements including transport (of both troops and single-unit light vehicles), maritime minesweeping duties, and Search & Rescue (SAR). The newer CH-53K variant is a heavily-modernized airframe based on the CH-53 with the program intending to keep the series flying over today's battlefields for decades more. The initiative headed by the United States Marine Corps who have elected for an "all-new" version as opposed to a cost-prohibitive upgrade for existing Super Stallion mounts currently in service.
The CH-53K initiative was born in a USMC need that sought to upgrade the existing CH-53E model fleet which began service in the 1980s. The storied Sikorsky helicopter concern eventually sold the USMC on an all-new variant under the "CH-53X" designation which later became known as the HLR (HLR = Heavy Lift Replacement) Program. The USMC formally designated the vehicle as the "CH-53K King Stallion" in 2006. Instead of undergoing a costly upgrade program and install new equipment onto decades-old airframes, the USMC is now set to receive new-build systems which will keep the Stallion series in USMC service beyond 2025.
Key improvements to the CH-53 family line include all-new engines, a larger internal passenger/cargo cabin, all-digital cockpit consistent with other modern aircraft, and new advanced composite blades. The new engines will provide improved performance specifications and improved field capabilities including a hauling increase nearly triple that of the earlier Super Stallion models. As in its previous forms, the CH-53K will be able to operate from both land bases and navy ships consistent with amphibious operations of the USMC. An external cargo hook system will be able to transport external cargo loads (via sling) while the new hold will allow for the transport of single vehicles or supplies - including the new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle set to succeed the storied HUMVEE line. This vehicle weighs about 14,000lb even before mission kits are applied.
Much of what has made the King Stallion the product it is today is based in the experience had by the USMC during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many subtle and notable issues apparent in the existing CH-53E series have been remedied in the CH-53K including hydraulic and oil leaks which became a running joke (and cause for concern) for the line.
Internally, the CH-53K will continue to be crewed by three personnel - two pilots seated side-by-side at the cockpit and a crew chief responsible for payloads. Optional crew can include a portside machine gunner and rear-facing tail machine gunner - the latter set at the open cargo bay door. If equipped with passenger seating, up to 55 personnel will be carried. Under combat conditions, the cabin will hold enough space for up to 37 combat-ready infantrymen.
The cockpit section showcases the typical Stallion framed/windowed surfaces as well as a starboard side in-flight refueling probe for extending the helicopter's operational range. The pilots will maintain excellent vision through forward, side, roof, and forward floor window panels. Side sponsons are also carried over from the CH-53E. At the cabin section will be windows and entry/exit doors for the passenger/cargo area. The empennage base will sport the aforementioned powered cargo ramp designed to accept vehicles. The undercarriage is set to consist of a heavy-duty wheeled tricycle arrangement made up of a pair of twin-wheeled main landing gear legs and a double-tired nose-landing gear leg - all fully-retractable into the design.
Power is where the King Stallion will make its case for it will consist of a triple pairing of 3 x General Electric T408 turboshaft engines each rated at 7,500 shaft horsepower - a massive 22,500 shp collectively. The engines will be fitted one per fuselage side with a centerline installation between, all based over the passenger/cargo section. The installations will be mated to a more reliable, lighter weight "split torque" drive system based in the Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche stealth helicopter prototype. This engine/gearbox combination will drive a 79-foot diameter, seven-bladed main rotor blade assembly as well as a four-bladed tail rotor. The main rotor incorporates various airfoils to achieve maximum efficiency when cutting through the air. Spars will be made of composites and the single-piece rotor head of titanium. The tail rotor is set to the portside of the aircraft and showcases a noticeable tilt downwards, said to provide the aircraft with improved lifting qualities while also stabilizing its X-axis by controlling torque. Fly-by-Wire (FbW) controlling will allow pilots precise command of their oversized helicopter and support a more stable automatic hovering action.
As it stands, the CH-53K weighs 33,200lb under empty conditions and this can grow to become 84,700lb when under full loads.
When armed for in-the-field operations, the CH-53K will carry a pair of 12.7mm (.50 BMG) XM218 series heavy machine guns at the side fuselage windows. An additional 12.7mm (.50 BMG) M3M/GAU-21 series heavy machine gun will be manned at the rear cargo ramp when flown with the door ajar. Missile and radar tracking threats will be countered a chaff/flare dispensers installed at the fuselage.
The initial USMC order was for 156 system though, by 2007, this total increased to 227 total units even before a single CH-53K system had been completed. Flight-testing began in late-2011 and initial deliveries were initially expected in 2015 with formal introduction planned for sometime in 2018. However, a project of this size and scope has meant that the product has suffered through delays - leading to about seven airframes being completed as of April 2018 with the first set to be delivered to the USMC for testing before 2019.
Despite this, at the end of it all, the USMC will field a technologically superior form of the fabled Super Stallion helicopter line, a system capable of outdoing its predecessors and being called on to perform nearly any over-battlefield/over-water function required by the operations typical of the service.
October 2015 - A first-flight of a prototype CH-53K form was had on October 27th, 2015. Series introduction was set to begin in 2018 with the latest reports now stating 2019 to be more likely.
April 2016 - It was announced that performance evaluations of a CH-53K test article will begin in late-2016. This phase will pave the way for production to be announced, possibly in 2017, leaving Initial Operating Capability (IOC) to be attained sometime in 2019 for the USMC.
April 2017 - The United States Department of Defense has officially approved serial production of the CH-53K with about 200 units on order to succeed the aging line of CH-53E models currently in USMC service.
November 2017 - It was announced that the CH-53K will be debuting at the ILA Airshow in Berlin in 2018. Germany and Israel are potential foreign customers to follow the USMC lead. Germany is looking to succeed its aging CH-53G series fleet.
January 2018 - The King Stallion is be offered for the German Army's STH heavy-lift helicopter requirement between a partnership made up of Sikorsky and the German concern of Rheinmetall. As stated previously, the Germans seek to replace its fleet of seventy CH-53G helicopter models.
April 2018 - A single CH-53K King Stallion has been airlifted in the belly of a C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft to Germany to be featured in the April 25-29 ILA Berlin Air Show. It is expected to conduct an aerial display to impress potential customers (including Germany itself) on the virtues of securing orders of the impressive new heavy-hauler by Sikorsky.
April 2018 - The current USMC commitment total is for 200 CH-53K helicopters with an additional twenty possibly added later. It is now officially expected that the product will enter formal USMC service in 2019.
May 2018 - The USMC has taken delivery of its first CH-53K example. This occurred on May 16th, 2018. This specimen will be used for maintenance, logistics, and sustainment testing by the service prior to the arrival of additional units. A further eighteen airframes are said to be in production.
February 2019 - The German government has issued a formal request for up to sixty medium-/heavy-lift helicopters under its STH program. The program seeks to replace an aging fleet of Sikorsky CH-53G helicopters currently in service. Front-runners include the Boeing CH-47F Chinook tandem-rotor transport and Sikorsky's own CH-53K "King Stallion".
April 2019 - The U.S. Congress has approved a measure to provide an additional $79 million USD in funding for the CH-53K program.
May 2019 - The CH-53K program has received $1.3 billion USD from the United States Marine Corps for funding twelve production units.
May 2019 - Sikorsky is courting the Israeli Air Force for a potential sale of its CH-53K platform.
June 2019 - Sikorsky is actively marketing its CH-53K solution to the German military as the service seeks to upgrade its heavy-lift, rotary-wing fleet (CH-53G/D models).
January 2020 - Sikorsky has officially bid on the German military heavy-lift competition by submitting its CH-53K design.
April 2020 - The CH-53K has completed its first air-to-air refueling exercise during an active demonstration involving a KC-130J turboprop tanker.
May 2020 - The USMC has received its first CH-53K simulator system (Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina).
June 2020 - The King Stallion has completed its Atlantic sea trials which spanned two weeks of activity.
February 2021 - Israel has selected the CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter to succeed an aging fleet of twenty-three CH-53 types of the Israeli Air Force.
Israel (selected); Japan (possible); United States
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Special-Mission: MEDical EVACuation (MEDEVAC)
Extraction of wounded combat or civilian elements by way of specialized onboard equipment and available internal volume or external carrying capability.
✓Special-Mission: Search & Rescue (SAR)
Ability to locate and extract personnel from areas of potential harm or peril (i.e. downed airmen in the sea).
✓Maritime / Navy
Land-based or shipborne capability for operating over-water in various maritime-related roles while supported by allied naval surface elements.
General transport functionality to move supplies/cargo or personnel (including wounded and VIP) over range.
Used in the Very-Important-Person (VIP) passenger transport role, typically with above-average amenities and luxuries as standard.
Serving Special Forces / Special Operations elements and missions.
99.1 ft (30.20 m)
78.7 ft (24.00 m)
27.8 ft (8.46 m)
33,226 lb (15,071 kg)
84,658 lb (38,400 kg)
+51,432 lb (+23,329 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion production variant)
3 x General Electric T408 (GE38-1B) turboshaft engines developing 7,500 shaft horsepower each to seven-bladed main rotor and four-bladed tail rotor.
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