The Complex

Meet the King Stallion, the U.S. Military’s New Muscular Helicopter

First there was the Sea Stallion, a workhorse helicopter that cut its teeth in combat in Vietnam. Then there was the Super Stallion, which offered more power and received heavy use in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, we’ve learned what’s coming next: The King Stallion, the military’s most powerful helicopter ever, which is ...

Photo courtesy Sikorsky Aircraft Corp.
Photo courtesy Sikorsky Aircraft Corp.

First there was the Sea Stallion, a workhorse helicopter that cut its teeth in combat in Vietnam. Then there was the Super Stallion, which offered more power and received heavy use in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, we’ve learned what’s coming next: The King Stallion, the military’s most powerful helicopter ever, which is set to fly for the first time later this year.

Gen. James Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, unveiled the colorful name and the first prototype of the helicopter able to make test flights in a ceremony at Sikorsky Aircraft Corp.’s test facility in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Monday. The CH-53K, as the King Stallion is formally known, will replace the CH-53D Sea Stallion and the CH-53E Super Stallion, venerable aircraft that have been used so much in recent years that the military actually started renovating some that had been sent to the boneyard, where the military sends retired aircraft. The Marine Corps wants some 200 King Stallions, at a cost of up to $25 billion, counting research and development. They could be in use by 2019.

While the King Stallion will be equipped with machine guns in combat zones, it’s most important attribute is its strength. Equipped with three new 7,500 shaft-horsepower engines built by General Electric Aviation, it will be able to carry up to 27,000 pounds slung from the bottom of the aircraft some 110 nautical miles – nearly three times what the present-day CH-53E Super Stallion can move, Sikorsky officials say. That is important to top Marine Corps officers, who want a helicopter that is powerful enough to carry its future armored vehicles, including the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, which will eventually replace the Humvee and could weigh more than 20,000 pounds when equipped for combat.

"With its 88,000 maximum gross weight, powerful new engines, lightweight composite structure, new rotor blades and fly-by-wire controls, the CH-53K will have the means to move troops and equipment from ship to shore, and to higher-altitude terrain, more quickly and effectively than ever before," said Sikorsky President Mick Maurer.

The flight-test version of the aircraft unveiled Monday hasn’t taken to the skies yet – but it’s supposed to by the end of this year. On April 17, Sikorsky began testing the new helicopter with all seven of its 35-foot main rotor blades and all four tail rotor blades attached for the first time. They are attached to a non-flying prototype of the King Stallion that is anchored to the ground. That step follows so-called bare-head light-off testing, in which the rotor hubs are tested without rotors attached.

In coming months, Sikorsky and the Marine Corps will conduct hundreds of hours of ground tests, preparing for the first flight. In addition to the helicopter unveiled Monday, three other test aircraft will be used. A three-year flight test program will follow, with each of the four helos expected to get about 500 flight hours, company officials said.

A Defense Department inspector general report released in September said that Naval Air Systems Command is generally managing the development of the helicopter well. However, it cautioned that because ground and flight testing had not begun yet due to manufacturing delays, there was the possibility of the program facing delays. It’s still unclear whether the helicopter will be fielded on schedule.

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