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SAS2018: NAVAIR PMA-261: CH-53K is a “Strategic Asset”   

US Navy League Sea-Air-Space Exposition Day 2 (10 April 2018) Mid-Day Report


The US Marine Corps’ (USMC) CH-53K King STALLION programme is quickly pursuing a dual-track set of milestones to expand “the envelope” of capabilities and complete qualification type testing, as the military-industry team eyes first production delivery of King STALLION to the service later this year.

Important milestones completed this year prior to Navy League SAS include last month’s demonstration of an external lift of a 36,000lbs (16,329kg) payload at the Sikorsky (a Lockheed Martin company) Development Flight Center, achieving a maximum weight on the single centre point cargo hook (one of three external hooks). The three external hooks permit the K to service up to three, separate landing zones in one mission from a ship. Prior to the 36,000-lbs. lift, the CH-53K lifted various external payloads up to 27,000lbs. including an Oshkosh Defense Joint Light Tactical Vehicle. Compared to the CH-53 “D”, the “K” offers a 12% internal volume improvement. USMC Col. Hank Vanderborght, the programme manager at the US Navy’s NAVAIR PMA-261 office, emphasised: “When you look at the CH-53K, when you look at the US, it is the only one true heavy lift asset we have. As far as I am concerned, it’s a strategic asset.” 

In a second instance, the programme envelope also expanded when forward flight of about 207kt successfully was achieved.

Also last month, the CH-53K arrived in Holzdorf, Germany, ahead of its international debut at this month’s ILA Berlin Air Show. This was the first time a King STALLION helicopter was loaded into a C-17 GLOBEMASTER and transported to the base of a European ally. MONCh readers will recall that earlier this year Sikorsky signed a strategic teaming agreement with Rheinmetall to bid its CH-53K for the German Air Force “Schwerer Transporthubschrauber” (STH) Programme. Rheinmetall is the lead teammate. The programme will replace the service’s existing fleet of CH-53G aircraft.

Michael Torok, PhD, the Sikorsky (a Lockheed Martin Company) Vice President of Marine Corps Systems, pointed out another programme success story to date has been the rotary aircraft’s simplified design, – “simple is better, fewer parts, less things to go wrong and modern technology has allowed us to do that. The engines are a great example – providing good power margins as well.” 

A GE Aviation document noted three company 7,332-rated shaft horsepower T408 engines power the King STALLION. “GE has had that engine up to 8,300 shaft horse power, so it is ‘a beast’. We have over 5,000 hours of ‘turn time’ on the engine, it is doing very, very well,” Vanderborght added with respect to the testing regime. Last November, GE Aviation was awarded a Low-Rate Initial Production contract to build 22 T408-GE-400 engines that will power the King STALLION fleet.

Additional K-model flight system enhancements include elastometric and bearingless rotors, that were major requirements to help reduce maintenance and increase aircraft availability and readiness. 

The CH-53K has been designed, from cockpit to the tail rotor, for more reliable maritime environment operations. In one case, the magnesium gearbox has been changed to aluminium to decrease corrosion. Torok added: “There’s a new level of salt corrosion testing that all the components have been through. This will provide great reliability even in the marine environment.”

Additionally, the “K’s” footprint will be less than the legacy-E model which should better support the “K” model’s handling and storage on amphibious ships, and subsequent operations.     

Turning to the flight crew perspective, Col. Vanderborght declared, “the aircraft’s cockpit is a top-of-the-line, 21st century, modern glass cockpit, fly-by-wire system.” The USMC aviator spoke from the perspective of flying CH-53E and also the “K”. “It is night and day between the ‘E’ and ‘K’. I pretty much could have flown the entire ‘K’ flight without touching the flight controls,” he said.  

The service programme manager also pointed out the K’s triple redundant, fly-by-wire, flight control system, that increases aircraft survivability. And while the capabilities include dynamic tactile cueing to “tell the pilot” before it hits banking and other flight limits, it also has a hydraulic, leak detection mode. When a K hydraulic system detects a leak, it complete and automatically isolates that section. “This renders the aircraft a lot safer and also ensures you can continue the mission.”   

Certainly as a lead-up to this month’s ILA Berlin Airshow, Dr. Torok concluded: “We’ve looked across our potential international customers, at the NATO requirements. We have done a handful of studies looking at all the different vehicles that need to be carried in a NATO environment. Again, the ‘K’ can carry everything thing that is required.”

Marty Kauchak


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