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With the delivery of two more Sikorsky CH-53K heavy-lift helicopters to Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River in Jacksonville, North Carolina, in the final quarter of 2022, the Corps’ inventory of the type has grown to nine aircraft, Lockheed Martin announced on 13 February 2023.

The CH‑53K has capabilities that exceed all other US Department of Defense rotary-wing platforms and is the only heavy-lift helicopter that will remain in production through to 2032 and beyond, according to the press release from Lockheed Martin, of which Sikorsky is a business unit.

Beyond its heavy-lift capabilities the type can refuelled in mid-air even when fully loaded and in challenging operational conditions, for example from a KC-130J tanker aircraft. The resulting significant increase in mission time and range is essential for evacuation and search-and-rescue missions.

In its announcement Lockheed Martin highlighted as one of the CH-53K’s key features its digital fly-by-wire flight control system, which distinguishes it from all of its predecessors. The system not only makes the handling of the aircraft easier, especially in poor visibility, but also monitors the aircraft’s entire flight behaviour and thus reduces the workload of the crew, which can then concentrate on the actual mission and the co-ordination of the helicopter’s mission systems.

The CH‑53K recently proved its high load-bearing capacity when transporting an F-35 fighter as an external load.

In December 2022 the US Marine Corps (USMC) determined that the CH‑53K was ready for deployment and cleared the way for full production. Sikorsky says it plans to deliver more than 20 CH-53Ks per year: a production rate that also takes into account 12 aircraft for the Israeli Air Force. The groundwork is already being laid at Sikorsky’s Connecticut plant to further expand current CH-53K production.

Gerhard Heiming