Iraq's Geriatric Choppers


I follow Marine Corps aviation pretty closely, but somehow I missed this: despite repeated proposals to retire them, the Marines are still flying their ancient CH-53D Sea Stallions. And now the old birds have been deployed to Al Asad airbase in western Iraq with Heavy Marine Helicopter Squadron 463, part of the West Coast 3rd Marine Air Corps News reports:

The squadron's aircraft have been around for close to 40 years, according to Capt. Shayne M. Frey, pilot training officer, HMH-463."They aren't as high speed as some of the newer planes," said Frey, a Lancaster, Pa., native. "We have a lot of daily and hourly inspections on them. The maintainers are out there in 120 degrees, all day long, working on these aircraft. Not only do they have to fix them when we break them, but they have to upkeep them, too."
The Sea Stallions are twin-engine progenitors of the three-engine CH-53E Sea Stallions. The 1980s Echo models are themselves rapidly aging and badly in need of replacement, so you can imagine how the Corps feels about its Vietnam War-era Deltas.Fortunately, there are plans firmly in place to reequip the Marines' rotary-wing squadrons and put these old workhorses and their equally-decrepit CH-46 Sea Knight stablemates to pasture. The MV-22 Osprey program, currently in the production phase, should field around 300 aircraft to replace the Sea Knights, while the CH-53K program will put new Super Stallions on the ramp in 2014.In the meantime, the Marines keep their old helos flying with a lot of maintenance muscle and prayer. And to keep the Super Stallion squadrons up to strength, they're even pulling five retired Navy CH-53Es out of the Arizona boneyard.--David Axe
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