The Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion has passed a further developmental milestone, with the announcement on 7 March of the first external lift of a 36,000 lb (16,329 kg) load.
During the event, which took place at the Sikorsky Development Flight Center in Florida, the CH-53K lifted the single-hooked load into a hover, demonstrating satisfactory handling qualities and structural margins during flight.
Previous trials had seen the CH-53K lift up to 27,000 lb externally. As noted by Lockheed Martin, with a gross weight of more than 91,000 lbs during the test, this was the heaviest helicopter ever flown by Sikorsky.
Although the CH-53K follows the same lineage as its CH-53E predecessor in terms of its baseline design, it can carry approximately three times the load while maintaining the same logistical footprint. This heavy-lift capability is becoming more important as the marines’ equipment increases in size. The original soft-skinned Humvee vehicle weighed about 2,500 kg (5,500 lb) and the hard-backed Humvees about 3,850 kg. When the US military started hitting improved explosive devices in Afghanistan and Iraq, it armoured the Humvees so they now weigh about 6,350 kg, and the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle replacement for the Humvee will weigh between 7,700 kg and 10,900 kg, depending on the configuration.
For the US Marine Corps the decision to keep with the tried-and-tested design of the CH-53 was in keeping with its history of remaining with what it knows, as demonstrated by the latest UH-1Y and AH-1Z variants of the ‘Huey’ and Cobra helicopters respectively. All of these platforms are fully ‘marinised’ and hardened against the saltwater environment, with many features that have been designed specifically for this environment such as the aluminium gearboxes.
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