The first CH-53K King Stallion to touch down at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Maryland arrived June 30. Relocated from Sikorsky’s Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, it is the first of seven aircraft expected to arrive over the next 12 months.
At NAS Patuxent River, the helicopter will undergo various flight quality, ground and avionics test events. This particular CH-53K is an Engineering Development and Manufacturing Model (EDM), specifically designed to demonstrate the capabilities of the platform throughout the testing process. The helicopter will be operated and maintained by a joint team of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (HX) 21, NAVAIR and Sikorsky pilots, aircrew, engineers and maintainers.
“With each flight hour logged on this platform, we are one step closer to bringing our nation’s most powerful helicopter to the Marines,” said U.S. Marine Corps Col. Hank Vanderborght, program manager for the Naval Air Systems Command’s (NAVAIR) Heavy Lift Helicopters program, PMA-261.
The successful ferry flight follows the Milestone C decision in March, approving the program to proceed with low-rate initial production. CH-53K production is expected to begin Summer 2017, and initial operational capability and initial operational test and evaluation are on pace for 2019.
“This is an exciting moment for the program; transitioning the aircraft to Pax River is the result of thousands of hours of dedicated service by the government and industry teams,” Vanderborght said.
With more than triple the payload capability and a 12-inch wider internal cabin than its predecessor (CH-53E Super Stallion), the CH-53K’s payload capability can take the form of a variety of relevant payloads ranging from an internally loaded High Mobility, Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle or the European Fennek armored personnel carrier. In addition, it can handle up to three independent external loads at once, which gives mission flexibility and system efficiency.