First Flight: Everything About The New King Stallion Is Big

  • Nov 20, 2015 6:17am GMT

The largest and heaviest helicopter in the United States military is bulking up. The CH-53K King Stallion, the Marine Corps' next-generation heavy-lift helicopter, took its first flight this week at Sikorsky's test facility in West Palm Beach, Florida. The helicopter was in the air for about 30 minutes, Stephen McCulley, Sikorsky's chief test pilot for the CH-53K, shares his thoughts on the flight in the video below.

Everything about this chopper is large including the price tag. The first flight has been a long time coming for the $25 billion program. Sikorsky is developing the King Stallion for the Marine Corps. It will maintain similar physical dimensions as its predecessor, the three-engine CH-53E SUPER STALLION helicopter, but will nearly triple the payload to 27,000 pounds 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 helicopter's first flight was supposed to happen in the summer of 2014 but was pushed back several times because of technical problems including a 7 month push back because of a glitch in the helicopter's gearbox.

VIDEO Sikorsky: On Wednesday October 28, 2015 at the Sikorsky Aircraft Development Flight Center the successful first flight of the U.S. Marine Corps’ CH-53K King Stallion heavy lift helicopter prototype, known as Engineering Development Model-1 (EDM-1). The 30-minute flight signals the beginning of a 2,000-hour flight test program using four test aircraft.

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Sikorsky's vice president of the CH-53K program, Michael Torok told Defense News the delays were, "obviously from an event driven process.You need 100 percent of everything to work before you can safely proceed to the next step." Neither the Marines nor Sikorsky could say what the delays cost the program. "I think the real total impact, from both a cost perspective and schedule perspective, we won't know until maybe six months to a year from now as we fly the aircraft," Torok said. "If it continues to fly like, granted just the first 30 minutes, but exactly as we expected and no surprises, we have great opportunities to recover some of those impacts as we go through the program."

Torok also noted that the problems so far have not been related to the key technologies required to make the aircraft capable of three times the lift, all within the same or less footprint of the legacy aircraft. Sikorsky is still building three more test aircraft. The four aircraft will fly a total of 2,000 hours over the course of the next three years.