CH-53K operational test helicopter contract issued
Sikorsky Aircraft will build four production-representative CH-53K heavy lift helicopters for the US Marine Corps under a $435 million contract awarded by the US Navy. The aircraft will be designated System Demonstration Test Articles (SDTA) and will allow the marines to conduct operational evaluation of the new helicopter system.
The CH-53K is being developed by Sikosrky to bring intelligent, reliable, low maintenance and survivable heavy lift capabilities to the US Marine Corps. Expeditionary in nature, the CH-53K aircraft will be fully shipboard compatible and capable of operating from austere and remote forward operating bases. The programme aims to deliver an Initial Operational Capability in 2019.
Sikorsky received a $3.5 billion System Development and Demonstration (SDD) contract in April 2006. The company has so far delivered two of the seven SDD CH-53K aircraft – the Ground Test Vehicle and the Static Test Article – into the test programme, and is currently finalising assembly of the four flight test aircraft and the Fatigue Test Article. The first flight of a CH-53K prototype aircraft is expected in late 2014.
This latest contract will see Sikorsky deliver the first SDTA aircraft in 39 months, and the fourth by the end of March 2017, when the marines will begin operational evaluation.
Once the SDTA aircraft enter operational evaluation in 2017, the US Marine Corps will verify the CH-53K helicopter's capability to carry 27,000 pounds over 110 nautical miles under ‘high hot’ ambient conditions, nearly tripling the external load carrying capacity of the current CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter.
Increased lift in the CH-53K will be enabled by three 7,500-shaft-horsepower GE38-1B engines; a split torque transmission design that more efficiently distributes engine power to the main rotors; fourth-generation composite rotor blades for enhanced lift; and a composite airframe structure for reduced weight.
Michael Torok, vice president, Sikorsky's CH-53K programme, said: ‘The four SDTA aircraft are based on the configuration of the fourth and final flight test aircraft currently being assembled on the prototype production line. We truly appreciate the high level of confidence the navy and marine corps have shown to the CH-53K team as we move forward with this important next phase of the programme.’
Col Robert Pridgen, the Heavy Lift Helicopters programme manager for the Naval Air Systems Command, added: ‘The SDTA contract represents an exciting and significant milestone in our programme. We are well on our way to making the CH-53K a reality for our marines and our naval fleet. The capability this aircraft brings, in every clime and place, is critical to sustaining the future missions of the marine air/ground task force. The future of heavy lift is bright.’
The US Navy intends to order an additional 196 CH-53K aircraft as part of a separate production contract to stand up eight operational squadrons and one training squadron to support the US Marine Corps' operational requirements. Eventual production quantities would be determined year-by-year over the life of the programme.
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