The CH-53K King Stallion, the Marine Corps' next-generation heavy-lift helicopter, took its first flight Tuesday at Sikorsky's test facility in West Palm Beach, Florida. The historical milestone flight lasted 55 minutes without any major issues. After a year of delays since 2014 due to technical issues, mainly with the helicopter’s main gearbox. The complications have since been solved with the Marine Corps eagerly awaiting their new helicopter’s test flight phase. The CH-53K is set to replace the USMC’s aging CH-53E Super Stallion fleet of heavy helicopter transports, offering significant improvements across its predecessor’s entire performance envelope.
Stephen McCulley, Sikorsky's chief test pilot for the CH-53K, told reporters in a teleconference,
"This aircraft flew just like we expected it to fly from the simulation, there were no surprises," adding he was "extremely happy with the aircraft response."
The first flight marks a significant and long-awaited milestone for the approximately $25.5 billion CH-53K program. The aircraft will replace the CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters and provide 50 percent more power that will allow it to transport more Marines and gear and operate at higher altitudes. The plan is to eventually buy 200 aircraft and the program is still on track to reach initial operational capability in 2019.
The CH-53K model will be the world's premier heavy lift helicopter, leveraging the lessons learned over 50 years of manufacturing and operational success with its CH-53A/D/E predecessors. Built to thrive in the modern battlefield, the extremely capable CH-53K aircraft will be intelligent, reliable, low maintenance and survivable across the full spectrum of operating conditions for which it was designed.
Expeditionary in nature, the CH-53K aircraft will be fully shipboard compatible and capable of operating from austere and remote forward operating bases. The CH-53K helicopter is the Marine Corps' critical land and sea based logistics connector. Sikorsky is still building three more test aircraft. The four aircraft will fly a total of 2,000 hours over the course of the next three years. The program is expected to reach its production and deployment milestone review period in the second quarter of Fiscal Year 2017. It was originally scheduled for the last quarter of FY16.
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