The Marines' future heavy-lift helicopter just got more formidable.
In a recent test, the CH-53K King Stallion lifted an external load of 36,000 pounds into a hover, then continued into flight, manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp. announced this week.
The King Stallion is set to replace aging CH-53E Super Stallions, with initial operational capability likely to happen in 2020. Ahead of then, the Marine Corps is already buying the new aircraft in greater quantities each year. The service's fiscal 2019 budget request included funds for eight more King Stallions.
Prior to the recent lift test, the King Stallion had successfully lifted up to 27,00 pounds, with one load including a joint light tactical vehicle, the 14,000 Humvee replacement for the Army and Marine Corps. That load already represented an increase over the capacity of the Super Stallion.
"The CH-53K can carry a 27,000 lb. external load over 110 nautical miles in high/hot conditions, which is more than triple the external load carrying capacity of the legacy CH-53E aircraft," Lockheed said in a news release.
The 36,000-pound external load, which brought the King Stallion's total weight to 91,000 pounds, represents an expansion of the capability envelope for the aircraft. The King Stallion is now the heaviest helicopter ever flown by the Lockheed-owned company Sikorsky, according to the release.
"The payload capability of this helicopter is unmatched, triple that of its predecessor and better than any other heavy lift helicopter in production," Col. Hank Vanderborght, U.S. Marine Corps Program Manager for the Naval Air Systems Command's Heavy Lift Helicopters Program, said in a statement. "The CH-53K program continues on pace to deploy this incredible heavy lift capability to our warfighters."
Recent testing also included angle of bank to 60 degrees, takeoffs and landings from surfaces sloped up to 12 degrees and gunfire testing.
"The successful completion of these last critical envelope expansion tests further demonstrates the maturity of the CH-53K aircraft," Dr. Michael Torok, Sikorsky's vice president for Marine Corps Systems, said in a statement. "We look forward to bringing this unique and exceptional heavy lift capability to the United States Marine Corps and our international customers."
-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.