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USMC’s new CH-53K heavy lift helo wraps up second round of sea trials

CH-53K King Stallion aboard USS Wasp
The CH-53K King Stallion prepares to take off from the deck of the USS Wasp (LHD) at sea during its first sea trials. Photo: US Navy

The CH-53K King Stallion completed five days and nights of envelope expansion testing in a modern naval environment at sea in the Atlantic, following successful sea trials in June 2020.

A team comprising of 105 members from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Two One (HX-21), H-53 Heavy Lift Helicopters Program Office (PMA-261), Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461 (HMH-461), Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron One (VMX-1), as well as Sikorsky pilots, engineers, technicians, and maintainers completed the second round of sea trials for the CH-53K aboard the USS Arlington, which is a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock operated by the U.S. Navy.

Sea trials are a set of tests aimed at assessing the aircraft’s performance at sea, which include launch and recovery, rotor start and shutdown, blade fold, and shipboard compatibility testing in rising wind speeds and different wind directions in relation to the aircraft.

During ship compatibility testing, the aircraft is towed around the deck and hangar, maintenance is performed while aboard the ship, the aircraft’s fit in all necessary locations on the deck and hangar is checked, and chain/tie-down procedures are evaluated.

“The latest sea trials were another great success for the CH-53K program,” said Col. Kate Fleeger, PMA-261 program manager. “Data analysis has shown a greater CH-53K LPD launch and recovery envelope than that of the CH-53E.”

The test results will allow the CH-53K to provide crucial ship-to-shore heavy lift capability for upcoming Marine Expeditionary Unit deployments.

“We made the stars align for us with months of exhaustive planning and tireless collaboration,” said Sarah Naiva, Assistant Program Manager for Test and Evaluation for the CH-53K. “The joint team overcame numerous challenges, such as tumultuous seas, and their hard work and dedication will provide the fleet with greater flexibility to launch and recover the CH-53K in more severe weather conditions and mission scenarios where an LPD has limited steering.”

The Marine Corps is currently in the process of transitioning from the CH-53E to the CH-53K, and is set to declare Full Operational Capability in FY2029, with full-rate production underway since the service began fielding the helicopter in January of last year, officially marking the start of its transition from the CH-53E Super Stallion.

The CH-53K King Stallion heavy lift helicopter, which is capable of lifting almost triple the baseline CH-53E lift capability, conducted an external load certification lift of an inoperable F-35 Lightning II airframe at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Maryland, in December 2022.