Sikorsky's CH-53K completes first flight

The composites-intensive heavy-lift helicopter being developed for the US Marine Corps hovered for 30 minutes at 30 ft, performing basic flight maneuvers.

Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. (Stratford, CT, US) reported on Oct. 27 the successful first flight of the U.S. Marine Corps’ composites-intensive CH­-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopter prototype, known as Engineering Development Model­1 (EDM­1). The 30­-minute flight signals the beginning of a 2,000­-hour flight test program using four test aircraft.

Sikorsky delivered the EDM­1 into the test program at the company’s West Palm Beach, FL, US-based Development Flight Center in late 2014. During its 30-minute maiden flight the EDM­1 aircraft performed hover, sideward, rearward and forward flight control inputs while hovering up to 30 ft above the ground. As the flight test program proceeds, the EDM­1 will be joined by an additional three EDM aircraft to fully expand the King Stallion’s flight envelope over the course of the three­year flight test program

“EDM­1’s first flight signifies another major milestone for the CH-­53K helicopter program,” says Mike Torok, Sikorsky’s CH­-53K program vice president. “Having independently tested the aircraft’s many components and subsystems, including integrated system level testing on the Ground Test Vehicle, we are now moving on to begin full aircraft system qualification via the flight test program.”

Sikorsky, with support of several aerocomposites manufacturers, is developing the CH­53K for the U.S. Marine Corps. It will maintain similar physical dimensions as its predecessor, the three­e-ngine CH-­53E SUPER STALLION helicopter, but will nearly triple the payload to 27,000 lb over 110 nautical miles under “high hot” ambient conditions. Features of the CH­-53K helicopter include a modern glass cockpit; fly­-by-wire flight controls; fourth-­generation rotor blades with anhedral tips; a low­-maintenance elastomeric rotor head; upgraded engines; a locking, United States Air Force pallet compatible cargo rail system; external cargo handling improvements; survivability enhancements; and improved reliability, maintainability and supportability.

The U.S. Department of Defense’s Program of Record remains at 200 CH­-53K aircraft with a Initial Operational Capability in 2019. Eventual production quantities would be determined year-­by-­year over the life of the program based on funding allocations set by Congress and the U.S. Department of Defense acquisition priorities. The Marine Corps intends to stand up eight active duty squadrons, one training squadron, and one reserve squadron to support operational requirements.