FARNBOROUGH, England -- Under the hood of the much-anticipated CH-53K King Stallion helicopter is a slew of smart systems that will help maintainers keep it flying faster and safer, the Navy's program executive officer for air, anti-submarine warfare, assault and special mission programs said this week.
Speaking at the Farnborough International Airshow on Tuesday, Rear Adm. Dean Peters said the King Stallion, built by the Lockheed Martin Corp.-owned Sikorsky and set to hit the Marine Corps fleet in 2019, would come with native health usage and monitoring systems and enhanced logistics tracking capability that would allow the aircraft to tell the crew when a part was failing or needed maintenance well ahead of a crisis point.
This advanced tech, he said, would allow maintainers to request parts further in advance.
"It's similar to the technology that's used in commercial department stores, so we understand when components are failing or about to fail and we have the part ready and we don't have to rob that from another aircraft and create more maintenance," Peters said.
The aircraft will also come equipped with a high-durability gearbox that are expected to keep the aircraft out of maintenance for longer periods, a key concern now as the Marine Corps grapples with a fleet of heavy-lift helicopters that is largely unfit to fly.
These are just a few ways of many that the King Stallion is expected to save the Marines' aging CH-53 Echo Super Stallion fleet.
The workhorse aircraft, which entered service for the Marine Corps in 1981, has been plagued by readiness shortfalls following a decade-and-a-half of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Marine Corps revealed earlier this year that less than a third of the service's 147 aircraft were cleared to fly and Congress had committed $360 million to refurbishing the fleet.
The Marine Corps "probably kept [CH-53s] in theater a little bit too long," Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told a Senate panel in March.
With fewer aircraft available to fly, officials have also decried a decrease in per-pilot flight hours.
Marine brass have yet to release the cause of a tragic collision of two Super Stallions off the coast of Oahu in January that cost the lives of all 12 pilots and crew members. While Marine Corps Deputy Commandant of Aviation Lt. Gen. Jon Davis said earlier this month there's no correlation between stress on the fleet and decreased flight hours and increased deadly mishaps, he said the Corps has seen an increase in smaller mishaps resulting in up to $500,000 worth of damage.
"We do know that we need to get our pilots more aircraft," Peters said. "That's some of the impetus of pushing this program forward, even in the midst of challenging defense budgets. And those 200 aircraft, as we start to fill in the squadrons there on the Marine Corps side, are going to be very well received in terms of being able to provide an operational capability."
The King Stallion just completed a test in which it successfully lifted a load of 27,000 pounds, a feat it is expected to be able to do under "high-hot" conditions at 6,000 feet in the air, 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
"With better environmental conditions, it will be able to lift even larger loads," Peters said. "This is pretty exciting."
Four King Stallions are now undergoing testing at Sikorsky's Development Flight Test Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. The Marine Corps plans to stand up its first squadron of King Stallions, Marine Heavy Lift Helicopter Squadron 366 [HMH-366] at New River, North Carolina in 2019.