The United States Marine Corps has, arguably, the best heavy-lift transport helicopter in the world in the Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion. However, the chopper, which entered service in 1981, is getting kind of old. So, the Marines and Sikorsky have teamed up to put the Super Stallion on a regimen of aeronautical steroids.
Here’s what they did:
The cabin of the new CH-53K King Stallion is almost 18 inches wider than that of the CH-53E. Marines are trained to make the most out of what they have, which means that extra 1.5 feet will go a long way. The most obvious effect of this latest round of upgrades to the CH-53 is the amount of cargo it can haul: 39,903 pounds, according to Lockheed handout. This adds almost 4,000lbs of lift capability to the aircraft.
Three external cargo hooks help the CH-53K haul almost 40,000 pounds of gear.
The CH-53K is also faster. It has a top speed of at least 170 knots, a significant upgrade to the 150 knots of the CH-53E. But how is this possible? The CH-53K is built primarily out of composites metals, which are much lighter than the materials used in previous iterations of the chopper. By weighing less, the CH-53K doesn’t have to work as hard to haul itself around, allowing it to distributed more lift. The CH-53K also replaces the three T64 engines of the CH-53E with T408 engines. The result is about 22,000 horsepower for the new King Stallion, as opposed to the 13,200 of the CH-53E.
In addition, the CH-53K also features numerous other improvements, including fly-by-wire flight controls, composite rotor blades with swept anhedral tips, a low-maintenance rotorhead, an improved external cargo handling system (with three hooks), and a “glass” cockpit (replacing dials and gauges with multi-function displays). The chopper can still carry as many as 55 troops.
A head-on view of the CH-53K in flight – it comes in about 18 inches wider than the CH-53E, but a little space can mean a lot.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Molly Hampton)
The CH-53K is also in contention to replace Luftwaffe CH-53s currently in service. Israeli Defense Forces are also looking into this heavy-lift helicopter. Believe it or not, this bigger Stallion will still fit inside a C-17 Globemaster III transport plane, but can also self-deploy to operating locations and operate off ships.
Currently, the plans are for this helicopter to reach initial operating capability in 2019. When it does, it’ll certainly give the Marines a huge boost.