Sikorsky Aircraft announced earlier this month that after an Integration Design Review (IDR), its CH-53K Heavy Lift Helicopter (HLH) program is on course to undergo its Critical Design Review in 2010.
Key collaborators of the HLH program were hosted by Sikorsky during a two-day meeting in November for an in-depth discussion on system design compliance and verification, design integration, and cross-discipline system design attributes. Participating in the meeting were members of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, NAVAIR Technical Review Board, and the NAVAIR/Sikorsky CH-53K team.
According to Mark Cherry, Sikorsky Vice President, Marine Corps Systems, the IDR meeting enabled the team to "identif[y] our 'next steps' as the CH-53K helicopter program moves with strength toward production."
"These reviews are key steps to ensure the transition from design to build and test of this aircraft proceeds at minimum risk," said Mike Torok, Vice-President and Marine Corps Systems Chief Engineer. "The CH-53K helicopter is no longer just on paper—we've already started building the aircraft that will fill a critical need for current and future warfighters."
Its predecessor, the three-engine CH-53E Super Stallion—designed in the 1960s and introduced in 1980—is said to be the largest, most powerful helicopter for marine operations in the world. It is deployed from U.S. Marine Corps amphibious assault ships to transport personnel and equipment and to carry external (sling) cargo loads. And it is also the focus of U.S. Navy concerns in terms of fatigue life, interoperability, maintenance supportability, and performance degradation.
The CH-53K helicopter will maintain virtually the same footprint as the CH-53E but will nearly triple the payload to 27,000 lb over 110 nmi on a "sea level hot" (103°F) day. The CH-53K helicopter's maximum gross weight (MGW) with internal loads is 74,000 lb compared to 69,750 lb for the CH-53E. The CH-53K's MGW with external loads is 88,000 lb as compared to 73,500 lb for the CH-53E.
Features of the CH-53K include a joint interoperable glass cockpit, fly-by-wire flight controls, fourth-generation rotor blades with anhedral tips, a low-maintenance elastomeric rotor head, upgraded engines, a locking cargo rail system, survivability enhancements, and reduced operation and support costs.
The CH-53K helicopter team has already completed several risk-reduction initiatives on two critical technologies, the split-torque main gearbox and the advanced main rotor blade, and is preparing for Technology Readiness Assessment early this year. An Initial Operational Capability milestone is scheduled for early 2016.
The CH-53K program is expected to include production of more than 200 new aircraft.