The Marines will soon get a major upgrade to their cargo helicopter fleet.
The Department of Defense earlier this month approved a Navy request to begin production on the CH-53K King Stallion, the powerful new helicopter set to replace the workhorse Super Stallion, which has been in service since 1981.
At a program cost of roughly $131million for each of the 200-aircraft order, the Marines expect their new choppers to be a massive improvement over the old Super Stallions.
‘They’re not even in the same galaxy,’ Colonel Henry Vanderborght, the Marines H-53 program manager, said at a recent defense conference, according to AIN. ‘The capability we’re going to field now is eye-watering.’
The Department of Defense earlier this month approved a Navy request to begin production on the CH-53K King Stallion (pictured)
The Marines Super Stallion (left) will eventually be replaced by the new King Stallion (right)
CH-53E Super Stallion
Entered service: 1981
Max Payload: 30,000 lbs
‘High/Hot’ Payload: 9,000 lbs
Speed: 172 mph
Ceiling: 10,000 feet
Power Plant: Three General Electric T64-GE-416 turboshaft engines (4,380 SHP each)
Unit Cost: $38.5M (inflation adjusted)
CH-53K King Stallion
Enters service: 2019 (estimate)
Max Payload: 35,000 lbs
‘High/Hot’ Payload: 27,000 lbs
Speed: 172 mph
Ceiling: 9,520 feet
Power Plant: Three General Electric T408-GE-400 turboshaft engines (7,332 SHP each)
Unit Cost: $87.1M
The King Stallion is specifically designed for ‘high and hot’ conditions that make flight more challenging.
The new helicopter triples the payload capacity of the old Super Stallion in those conditions, for a 27,000-pound payload capacity that allows the King Stallion to transport twofully armored Humvees or one LAV-25 amphibious armored reconnaissance vehicle.
WHAT ARE ‘HIGH/HOT’ CONDITIONS?
- Sea-level lift-off, temperature 103F
- Travel at least 110 nautical miles
- Landing zone 3,000 feet above sea level, where temperature is 91.5F
Naval testers set these specifications to replicate combat conditions.
The heavier carrying capacity is needed to operate in desert environments as Humvee armor has steadily gotten heavier, upping the vehicles’ weight from 5,500 to 8,500 pounds in the 1990s to 12,000 pounds tod
The King Stallion will also introduce a fly-by-wire flight control to improve safety. The electronic flight controls replace the manual controls on the Super Stallions.
‘In the CH-53E there’s, no kidding, an iron rod that goes all the way from the pilot’s hand to the flight control surface,’ Vanderborght, who flew the craft for years, told Naval Aviation News. he said.
‘You’re coming in at night and you’re trying to land that huge aircraft and a dust bubble engulfs you and you lose sight of the ground.’
The King Stallion (pictured) will have triple the payload capacity of the old Super Stallion in ‘high/hot’ conditions
The Marines also aim to dramatically reduce maintenance requirements, which currently clock in at 44 hours of work for every hour of flight on the aging Super Stallion.
Lockheed-Martin Sikorsky is undertaking the 200 unit production run for a program cost of $25.3 billion. Including R&D costs, the price breaks down to more than $131million per aircract.
That’s even more than the notoriously expensive vertical takeoff and landing version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35B, which clocks in at $122.8million.
But Vanderborght argues that the media has overhyped the King Stallion’s cost in stories claiming it costs more than the F-35. The ‘flyaway’ unit cost of the CH-53K is really $87million, he said.
Per-aircraft costs will come down if the new chopper succeeds in attracting foreign buyers.
Germany has expressed interest in buying 41 of the King Stallions, as has Israel, a Lockheed executive has said.
The CH-53 heavy cargo line has been in service for decades. Shown is the first flight of the YCH-53E on MArch 1, 1974