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Sikorsky recently completed the first CH-53K at its plant in Stratford, Connecticut, where production of the heavy lift aircraft is expected to ramp up to meet the needs of the United States Marine Corps’ fleet of 200 aircraft.
A ceremony marking completion and delivery to the Marine Corps was held on September 24 at the Connecticut plant where Sikorsky is also building the UH-60 Black Hawk.
The newest CH-53K is also the first helicopter designed from start to finish, from design to manufacture with a digital wire, which is expected to increase mission availability and reduce pilot and crew workload. , according to Sikorsky, which is owned by Lockheed Martin. .
“This Connecticut-built CH-53K aircraft is a testament to Sikorsky’s heritage of building safe and reliable rotorcraft for decades,” Sikorsky President Paul Lemmo said in a statement. “But the way we design, test and build helicopters has changed. Our employees use digital tools and other cutting-edge technologies such as manufacturing simulation and 3D laser inspection technology. This factory transformation is a model for all future Sikorsky helicopter programs.
This is the first CH-53K helicopter to roll off the Stratford, Connecticut production line. Stratford’s next King Stallion is scheduled for delivery in early 2022. As of October 2020, Sikorsky has delivered four operational CH-53K King Stallion heavy lift helicopters to the US Marine Corps in Jacksonville, North Carolina (the fourth was delivered on September 29). These aircraft and the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) aircraft were assembled at Sikorsky’s flight test facility in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Six CH-53K aircraft are currently under construction at the Sikorsky, Connecticut plant, and 36 more are in various stages of production, including nine for which long lead-time parts are in the pipeline.
The initial operational test and evaluation of the aircraft began in July in North Carolina and is expected to continue until January or February 2022. Four aircraft are now in the hands of the operational evaluation and test squadron VMX-1 at Marine Corps Aviation Station New River in Jacksonville, North Caroline. Pilots and marine maintainers operate the CH-53K in a fleet environment under the rigorous test program.
While still in operational test, the aircraft completed its first official mission on September 5 when a CH-53K assigned to VMX-1 successfully recovered a Navy MH-60S Knighthawk helicopter from Mount Hogue in the White Mountains of California. Two test planes crossed the country from North Carolina to California in August to test its aerial refueling and self-deployment capabilities, then train for desert and mountain operations with Marine Corps Air -Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms.
The Navy helicopter suffered a hard landing on rugged mountainous terrain – without injury to the crew – and was then lifted after the Navy “depleted all other resources,” including the Guard’s Chinook helicopters. National Army and other units of the Navy and Marine Corps.
The recently delivered King Stallion will join the four test planes and three representative planes of production at New River. There are Marines training to fly and support the fleet with heavy lift missions in preparation for the CH-53K’s first deployment in 2024 using a suite of training devices developed by Sikorsky. Pilots receive hands-on training through the Containerized Flight Training Device (CTFD), which replicates the functionality, flight characteristics, mission profiles and lifting capabilities of the CH-53K.
Maintenance personnel also prepare with a virtual aircraft environment through the Helicopter Emulation Maintenance Trainer, an immersive experience in which Marines practice avionics and airframe maintenance in preparation for working on aircraft in the fleet.
The helicopter is part of a record 200 aircraft program for the Marine Corps, with a total of 33 aircraft currently under contract and nine more under contract for long lead parts. Where the company is now equipped to deliver an aircraft every three months, plans are to deliver two per month or 24 per year at full capacity. Sikorsky is crowding out the Black Hawk line which is currently operating alongside 53K production at Stratford and will double its capacity to accommodate full capacity production.
The decision whether or not to enter full-capacity production is expected in FY 2023, which begins October 1, 2022. At full capacity, the Stratford plant is expected to be able to produce 36 King Stallions per year. .
“The CH-53K helicopter provides advanced capabilities allowing Marines to fly anywhere in the world where the mission requires heavy lift logistics support,” said Lt. Gen. Mark Wise, deputy commander of the Corps of Marines for aviation, during the ceremony in Sikorsky. “This helicopter is a much safer aircraft because it can maneuver in low visibility environments. He will move the Marines forward quickly and efficiently.