King of the Whirly-Beasts

The Marine Corps’ next generation CH-53K King Stallion heavy lift helicopter successfully lifted off for the first time on a flight at West Palm Beach, Fla., on Tuesday, manufacturer Sikorsky announced. “Having independently tested the aircraft’s many components and subsystems … we are now moving on to begin full aircraft system qualification via the flight test program,” company program vice president Mike Torok said in a release. The clean-slate design is similar in size to the company’s legacy CH-53, but is capable of hefting a 27,000-pound payload—nearly triple the Marine Corps’ current version—some 110 nautical miles in hot and high-altitude conditions, according to the company. Improvements include more powerful turboshaft engines, fly-by-wire flight controls, advanced rotor blades, a glass-cockpit, standard pallet compatible cargo system, reliability enhancements, and a modern self-defensive suite. The marines plan to purchase a total of 200 CH-53Ks to replace the service’s current Sea Stallion fleet. Sikorsky will deliver four helicopters to support flight testing over the next three years. Initial operational capability is targeted for 2019.