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Prototype assembly looms as first production parts arrive for CH-53K heavy lift helicopter

Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. has begun receiving the first of the 8,500 supplier parts that will constitute the new CH-53K heavy lift helicopter Sikorsky is developing for the U.S. Marine Corps. Arrival of the parts – primarily transmission gear forgings that Sikorsky machinists will intricately refine – indicates steady and solid progress toward production of the first prototypes. Sikorsky Aircraft is a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp. (NYSE: UTX).  

"The arrival of the first forgings is a significant and visible milestone for the program," said John Johnson, CH-53K Helicopter Program manager. "It means the program is advancing from the 'paper' stages of engineering and design to the hardware stages of castings and forgings. It is exciting to see such an impressive aircraft start coming to life with these forgings for the dynamics system."  

The parts will support assembly of the seven prototype vehicles that will be delivered during the system design and development program. Of the seven, four will serve as engineering development vehicles. The remaining three will serve as a dedicated ground test vehicle, a static test article, and a fatigue test platform. The prototypes will be assembled at Sikorsky's Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach, Fla.  

The CH-53K will replace the current three-engine Sikorsky CH-53E SUPER STALLION™ helicopter. The CH-53E helicopter is currently the largest, most powerful marinized helicopter in the world. It is deployed from Marine Corps amphibious assault ships and land bases to transport personnel and equipment, and to carry external (sling) cargo loads.  

The CH-53K helicopter will nearly triple the payload to 27,000 pounds transportable over 110 nautical miles under "hot high" operational conditions. It will maintain the same footprint as the CH-53E and have significantly lower operational costs. The CH-53K helicopter's maximum gross weight (MGW) will increase to 74,000 pounds, versus 69,750 pounds for the CH-53E aircraft, and it will be capable of carrying an external load of up to 88,000 pounds as compared to 73,500 pounds for the CH-53E helicopter.  

This new build helicopter will incorporate a joint interoperable glass cockpit with fly-by-wire flight controls; fourth generation rotor blades with anhedral tips; a low-maintenance rotorhead; new GE38-1B engines; a 15 percent increase in cabin size; a cargo rail locking system; external cargo handling improvements; survivability enhancements; and reduced operational and support costs.  

"The CH-53K helicopter is the only aircraft that meets the Marine Corps' requirements for heavy lift. It will provide significant improvement in operational capability and significant reduction in cost of ownership. This aircraft also will operate in 'hot high' conditions, all of which translates to a critical tool for the Marine Corps," Johnson said.  

Sikorsky Aircraft received a $3 billion System Development and Demonstration contract on April 5, 2006 to develop a replacement for the U.S. Marine Corps CH-53E heavy lift helicopter. The program is expected to produce more than 200 new aircraft.  

The CH-53K helicopter team has successfully conducted several risk reduction initiatives on two critical technologies – split torque main gearbox and main rotor blade – and has implemented many process and product improvement measures as a result. The program conducted a successful Preliminary Design Review in September 2008, and is tracking toward a Critical Design Review in 2010.  

"We are pleased with the current performance of our team and partners," said Mark Cherry, Vice President of Marine Corps Systems. "The receipt of these first parts is validation of our development process."

Press release issued by Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company on August 7, 2009


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Sikorsky CH-53

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