Exelis (Salt Lake City, Utah) has been awarded a contract valued in excess of $34 million from Sikorsky (Stratford, Conn.) to produce major structural airframe components for four productionrepresentative CH53K heavy lift helicopters.
Designated as System Demonstration Test Articles (SDTA), the four aircraft will enable the U.S. Marine Corps to conduct operational evaluation of the new helicopter system beginning in 2017. Exelis will fabricate and assemble the composite sponsons, the tail rotor pylon and the horizontal stabilizer of the CH53K. The use of composite materials helps to increase the performance and capability of the aircraft by reducing weight and fuel consumption, which allows for increased payload capacity and extended flight range.
“Our breadth of composite fabrication expertise combined with skilled assembly capability provides our customer with the most affordable solutions,” says Mike Blair, vice president and general manager of the Exelis Aerostructures business. “The use of composite technology on the CH53K helicopter ensures that the weight, durability and affordability objectives of the program are met.”
Once the SDTA aircraft enter operational evaluation, the Marine Corps will verify the CH53K helicopter’s capability to carry 27,000 pounds over a mission radius of 110 nautical miles under “high hot” ambient conditions, thereby more than tripling the external load carrying capacity of the current CH53E SUPER STALLION helicopter.
Production will take place at the Exelis composite design and manufacturing center in Salt Lake City, Utah. Exelis is part of an industry team led by Sikorsky that is assembling prototype CH53K aircraft for first flight in late 2014. The Marine Corps expect to stand up the first CH53K heavy lift helicopter squadron in 2019. The U.S. Navy program of record is for 200 aircraft.