Lockheed Martin starting low rate production of CH-53K King Stallion helicopters

The CH-53K helicopter on a test flight at the Sikorsky Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. Photo: Lockheed Martin

The US Naval Air Systems Command has awarded Lockheed Martin a Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) Lot 1 contract to build two production CH-53K King Stallion helicopters.

Under the $303,974,406 million contract, Sikorsky will deliver two production aircraft to the U.S. Marine Corps in 2020 along with spares and logistical support. Aircraft assembly will take place in Stratford, Connecticut.

Production of the most powerful helicopter in the U.S. military follows the April 4, 2017, Milestone C decision by the Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) approving LRIP production.

The King Stallion is being acquired to replace the CH-53E Super Stallion.

“Gaining the U.S. Marine Corps approval to enter into production and the award of the first contract are milestones made possible by the tremendous achievements of the joint Sikorsky, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) and U.S. Marine Corps team,” said Dr. Mike Torok, vice president, CH-53K programs. “This is what we have been striving for – to deliver this amazing capability to the U.S. Marine Corps.”

“We have just successfully launched the production of the most powerful helicopter our nation has ever designed. This incredible capability will revolutionize the way our nation conducts business in the battlespace by ensuring a substantial increase in logistical through put into that battlespace. I could not be prouder of our government-contractor team for making this happen,” said Col Hank Vanderborght, U.S. Marine Corps program manager for the Naval Air Systems Command’s Heavy Lift Helicopters program, PMA-261.

According to Lockheed Martin, the CH-53K can carry a 12.200 kg/27,000 lb external load over 204 km /110 nautical miles in high/hot conditions (33°C/91.5°F at an altitude of 914m/3,000 feet), which is more than triple the external load carrying capacity of the CH-53E aircraft it is replacing.

The helicopter cabin gives increased payload capacity to internally load 463L cargo pallets, High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWV) or a European Fenneck armored personnel carrier while still leaving the troop seats installed. The CH-53K’s external hook system provides the capability to lift three independent external loads simultaneously.

The King Stallion also brings full authority fly-by-wire flight controls while mission management reduce pilot workload enabling the crew to focus on mission execution. Features include advanced stability augmentation, flight control modes that include attitude command-velocity hold, automated approach to a stabilized hover, position hold and precision tasks in degraded visual environments, and tactile cueing.

The CH-53K’s internal health monitoring systems with fault detection/fault isolation, coupled with a digital aviation logistics maintenance system that interfaces with the Fleet Common Operating Environment for fleet management, provides improved combat readiness for the Marine Corps.

The U.S. Department of Defense’s Program of Record remains at 200 CH-53K aircraft. The U.S. Marine Corps intends to stand up eight active duty squadrons, one training squadron, and one reserve squadron to support operational requirements.

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