USMC begins Super Stallion reset
The US Marine Corps (USMC) has begun a complete reset of its ageing CH-53E Super Stallion heavy-lift helicopters to address systemic issues and increase the number of operationally fit aircraft, it announced on 10 August.
According to the USMC, the CH-53E platform's readiness level has been reduced to unsustainable depths in recent years, as evidenced by the 2014 crash of an MH-53E Sea Dragon, the naval variant of the aircraft.
The subsequent investigation found that electrical wires had chafed and breached a fuel line, causing a fire; this revelation prompted an inspection of all CH/MH-53s for signs of wiring and fuel line chafing.
The inspection, in turn, found significant material degradation of the CH-53E and the MH-53E. In June 2014, independent readiness reviews were ordered into each of the USMC aviation platforms.
The Super Stallion Independent Readiness Review (SSIRR) found an issue with the low readiness levels of the helicopters, including supply system agility, material condition of the aircraft, support equipment, maintenance publications and training.
In response to the SSIRR findings, the USMC has put forth a two-step strategy, with the first step being a full reset of all its 147 aircraft, which is expected to take three years.
Each airframe will be taken through a strip-down and rebuilding process, changing any high-time components. This is expected to take 110 days on average per airframe.
The USMC has already completed resetting aircraft at USMC Air Station New River, North Carolina. The validation required 12 days of functional check flights before being deemed operational after not flying for four years. This is lower than the three to four months of check flights typical for grounded CH-53Es to be declared operational.
The next five helicopters have already begun the reset, with two at Air Station Miramar, California and three at Air Station New River. Eventually, the USMC expects to have 16 aircraft being reset at a time, with two at Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii and seven each at New River and Miramar.
The second step of the USMC's two-step strategy involves addressing remaining systemic issues and preventing another such reset in the future.
For detail on the CH-53K programme, see the Sep-Oct issue of Defence Helicopter.
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