The CH-53K King Stallion helicopter has performed its long-awaited first flight, taking to the air on Tuesday, Oct. 27 at Sikorsky’s Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach, Fla.
The maiden flight involved basic taxi work and hovering maneuvers, lasting a total of around 55 minutes. “This aircraft flew just like we expected it to fly,” Sikorsky CH-53K chief test pilot Stephen McCulley reported in a media conference call shortly after the flight. “There were no surprises.”
The super-heavy-lift CH-53K — which will have a projected maximum gross weight with external load of 88,000 pounds (39,916 kilograms) — is the replacement for the U.S. Marine Corps’ CH-53E Super Stallion. Powered by three 7,500-shaft-horsepower-class T408-GE-400 engines, the CH-53K will be able to lift up to three times more than its predecessor, which is already the largest and heaviest helicopter in the U.S. military fleet.
The CH-53K was originally projected to fly in 2014, but that target was pushed back due to engineering problems, notably with the main gearbox. “We’re an event-driven program, so we do not fly unless we’re ready to fly,” explained USMC Col. Hank Vanderborght, program manager for Heavy-Lift Helicopters. “We did have some technical issues with our main rotor gearbox, and the collective engineering team, program team did a great job in the last five months resolving those issues. Everything has now checked out, as evidenced by the successful first flight today of the aircraft.”
Despite the delays, Vanderborght expressed confidence that the program remains on track, telling reporters, “Like any program, we’ve built margin into our schedule. We’ve eaten up some of that margin, but right now we’re still targeting an initial operational capability in 2019.”