Sikorsky wins USD 1.1 billion US Navy contract for 12 heavy-lift helicopters

Helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky has won a USD 1.13 billion deal from the U.S. Navy to build 12 CH-53K heavy lift helicopters. The latest version of this aircraft, called the King Stallion, can lift up to 16.3 tonnes, making it the most powerful heavy-lift helicopter ever built in the US. 

Under the terms of the contract, Sikorsky will begin deliveries of the 12 CH-53K helicopters in 2022 and also provide spares and logistical support.

According to Sikorsky, the CH-53K is the only sea-based, long range, heavy-lift helicopter in production and provide three times the lift capability of its predecessor. The CH-53K will support U.S. Marine Corps missions and conduct expeditionary heavy-lift transport of armoured vehicles, equipment, and personnel to support distributed operations deep inland from a sea-based centre of operations.

“The all-new CH-53K, designed to be intelligent, reliable, low maintenance and survivable in the most difficult conditions, has flown more than 1,400 test hours and has met all the outer reaches of the test envelop,” Sikorsky says about its new heavy-lifter. The company also announced that the new CH-53K King Stallion will have heavy-lift capabilities that exceed all other Department of Defense helicopters and that it is the only heavy-lifter that will remain in production through 2032 and beyond.

“Sikorsky employees and our nationwide supply chain are ready to ramp up CH-53K production to support deployment of this modern, safe and reliable aircraft in 2023-2024,” said Sikorsky Program Director Bill Falk. “This contract demonstrates the U.S. Marine Corps’ confidence in Sikorsky to expand production of this technologically advanced heavy-lift helicopter.”

Commercial use

As a part of Lockheed Martin, which is said to be the largest defence specialist in the States, the U.S. Army and Navy make up a large percentage of Sikorsky’s revenue, but the company sells its aircrafts commercially as well. They can, among other things, frequently be seen in offshore and search and rescue operations.

If a commercial version of the CH-53K will become available is yet unclear, but salvage company Ardent Global proved heavy-lift helicopters can be a useful tool when it used a Sikorsky Skycrane heavy-lift helicopter to unload about three hundred containers from container vessel Kea Trader, which was stranded on the Durand reef near New Caledonia for a year. However, a spokesperson of Seatrade, who chartered the vessel from Lomar Shipping, did say it was “not a cheap” solution.

The Sikorsky Skycrane removed over 300 containers from the Kea Trader. Photo: Ardent Global.

Not the strongest

At 16.3 tonnes, the King Stallion has twice the lift capacity of the Skycrane, but it is not the strongest helicopter in the world. According to Heli Press, that title belongs to the Russian aircraft Mil MI-26 which can take off safely with loads up to 28 tons.

The CH-53K, however, is more than just a strong machine. “The King Stallion’s technologically advanced design will meet the future warfighting requirements for decades to come, enabling missions like humanitarian aid, troop and equipment transport, casualty evacuation (CASEVAC), support of special operations forces, and combat search and rescue (CSAR),” Sikorsky states.

In testing, the first King Stallion proved it can fly in high altitude, hot temperature, and degraded visual environment flights, transport loads of 36,000 pounds (16,329 kilograms), reach speeds of over 200 knots, make 60 degrees angle of bank turns and fly 18,500 feet above mean sea level.

Production

Lockheed Martin, Sikorsky and its suppliers have made significant investments in facilities, machinery, tooling, and workforce training to ramp-up production required for the CH-53K program.

“We have transformed our factory for the future and implemented a model for all future helicopter programs,” Falk said. “Additionally, our engineers have implemented the latest technologies such as manufacturing simulation and 3D laser inspection technology. These investments in systems, personnel, and our facilities have elevated Sikorsky’s manufacturing technology and capabilities to meet the production requirements of the CH-53K for domestic and international customers.”

Author: Tobias Pieffers

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