CH-53K King Stallion Helicopter Aces Air-to-Air Refueling Test with KC-130J Tanker

The U.S. Marine Corps’s new CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopter aced an air-to-air refueling test this week, successfully demonstrating long-range logistics support capabilities.

The 4.5-hour test was accomplished over the Chesapeake Bay with a KC-130J Super Hercules aerial refueling (AR) tanker.

A CH-53K King Stallion successfully plugs into a funnel-shaped drogue towed behind a KC-130J during aerial refueling wake testing, April 6, 2020, over the Chesapeake Bay. The all-new heavy-lift helicopter will expand the Marine Corps’ ability to move more material more rapidly. (U.S. Marine Corps photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin by Dane Wiedmann)

“The aircraft went to the tanker this week and it was very successful, proving it is a long-range vertical logistic workhorse,” said Col. Jack Perrin, H-53 heavy lift helicopters (PMA-261) program manager.

According to the CH-53K test team, the wake survey test assessed the performance of the aircraft when flying behind the tanker in strong, turbulent air. The aircraft’s crew successfully plugged the drogue, a funnel shaped basket towed behind the KC-130J. These tests were performed at increasing closure rates to ensure the CH-53K can handle the forces on the refueling probe when contacting the drogue during aerial refueling.

“The aircraft was able to meet the desired performance for all engagements,” said Perrin. “The ‘K’ is the long-range enabler that we need now and into the future.”

Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion

The Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion is a heavy-lift cargo helicopter currently being developed by Sikorsky Aircraft for the U.S. Marine Corps as a replacement for the current CH-53E Super Stallion. It will be the largest and heaviest helicopter in the U.S. military.

The design features three 7,500 shp (5,590 kW) engines, new composite rotor blades, and a wider aircraft cabin than previous CH-53 variants.

Designed to lift nearly 14 tons (27,000 lbs/12,247 kg) at a mission radius of 110 nautical miles (203 km), in Navy high/hot environments, the CH-53K is designed to lift triple the baseline CH-53E lift capability with an equivalent logistics shipboard footprint, lower operating costs per aircraft, and less direct maintenance man hours per flight hour.

The USMC plans to receive 200 CH-53K helicopters at a total cost of $25 billion. The CH-53K will transport Marines, heavy equipment and supplies during ship-to-shore movement in support of amphibious assault and subsequent operations ashore.

Ground Test Vehicle (GTV) testing started in April 2014; flight testing began with the maiden flight on 27 October 2015. In May 2018, the first CH-53K was delivered to the Marine Corps.

The program continues to execute within the reprogrammed CH-53K timeline, moving toward completion of the developmental test, leading to initial operational test and evaluation in 2021 and first fleet deployment in 2023-2024.

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