Technical issues have put the CH-53K, “King Stallion” behind scheduled.
While these issues take place Lockheed Martin has told the Marines and DoD that they will still meet their operational need of 2023-2024
The 31 Billion dollar program will miss a key mile stone. Operational for combat in 2019, according to the Bloomberg report.
According to Naval Air Systems Command spokesperson Greg Kuntz confirmed that “discovery of technical issues later than expected and inadequate rate of their closure resulted in a flight test efficiency rate that was less than projected.” As of early January, “we are evaluating requirements to the program but have not yet made a formal determination on IOC [initial operational capability] or IOT&E [initial operational test and evaluation] dates,” he stated.
the technical flaws include “exhaust gas sucked back into the engine, limited service life for parts for the main rotor gearbox, deficiencies with the tail rotor and driveshaft and late deliveries of redesigned parts.”
However, Sikorsky CH-53K program director Bill Falk said that “the current technical issues are solvable and resolutions are in process.”
A good example is the exhaust gas re-ingestion issue discovered during flight testing, he said that Sikorsky engineers are “confident” they have a solution to correct the issue with minimal impact on ongoing flight tests and production.
“We have completed prototype designs, 3D printed prototypes and have identified suppliers for rapid prototyping, We anticipate a demonstrated solution in 2019 that will be incorporated into production aircraft build.” Falk said.
Despite the program’s struggles, Falk said the CH-53K had a successful summer of flight testing, nearly doubling its flight rate and achieving significant accomplishments in high-altitude, degraded visual environment, electromagnetic environmental effects and continued envelope expansion testing, in addition to flights behind an aerial refueling tanker. To date, the program has achieved over 1,200 flight hours.
flight test objectives for 2019 include shakedown testing for propulsion, handling qualities and flight controls; and airworthiness testing for propulsion, avionics and aeromechanical stability. Other priorities include expanding the aircraft’s operating temperature and capabilities envelopes, and shipboard integration.
Sikorsky has delivered two aircraft to the Marine Corps. One is at Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina, for logistics demonstration, “where the maintainers are meticulously taking the aircraft apart and putting it back together,” Falk said. The second was delivered in October for ballistics testing at China Lake, California.
The Marines intend to purchase a total of 200 CH-53K helicopters, the successor to the CH-53E Super Stallion. Although visually similar to the E model, the CH-53K is a clean-sheet design that will carry three times as much as the Super Stallion in hot and high conditions.