The first prototype of the CH-53K transport helicopter that Sikorsky is building for the U.S. Marine Corps took off on its debut flight at the company’s facility in Florida on Oct. 27.
Sikorsky is building 200 CH-53Ks at a total cost of up to $23 billion to replace the Marines’ depleted force of around 150 CH-53E transports, which do the heavy aerial lifting for the Marines’ combat battalions.
The triple-engine, seven-blade CH-53K will be, by far, the West’s most powerful helicopter, able to haul 18 tons of external cargo 110 miles — twice as much as the CH-53E can carry.
Only Russia’s much larger Mi-26 can lift more — 20 tons over a distance of 300 miles or so. Russia operates around 40 Mi-26s and is working on an upgraded Mi-26T2 version. In 2011, China announced it would co-develop a heavylift copter with Russia.
The CH-53K is the Marines’ future airborne muscle. The V-22 tiltrotor, which flies faster and farther but carries much less, is the Corps’ aerial legs. What’s particularly impressive about the CH-53K is that it takes up roughly the same amount of space on the U.S. Navy’s assault ships as the CH-53E does, despite being much more powerful.
The Marines expect to introduce the CH-53K into frontline service in 2019.