The Marine Corps' future workhorse chopper will not be operational until 2019, but it's already conducting test flights at a Sikorsky/Lockheed Martin facility in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Officials with the company said Sikorsky and Marine Corps test pilots were currently flying two CH-53K King stallions. By December, they said, four of the heavy-duty aircraft would be conducting test flights.
The King Stallion looks similar to the CH-53E Super Stallion that has been in service for the Marine Corps since 1981. But the future helicopter can more than triple the Super Stallion's payload on certain missions, said Chris Van Buiten, vice president of Technology and Innovation at Sikorsky.
Sikorsky was purchased by Lockheed Martin in 2015.
Test pilots will only complete under 100 hours of the 2,000-hour, three-year flight test program for the King Stallion this year, but the program was on schedule to hit planned milestones, said Mark Miller, vice president of research and engineering at Sikorsky.
"Some of the different flight modes we're testing [now]," he said. "We're doing external lift mid-yearish."
The Marine Corps, which plans to purchase two King Stallions next year, has been open about its enthusiasm for the new aircraft.
The Corps released this motivational video in February showing the chopper conducting test flights.