U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) has issued a contract to Sikorsky valued at $435.3 million to build four new CH-53K test article aircraft, as the Navy’s aviation branch prepares to launch the upgraded variant of the manufacturer’s C-53 series transport helicopters.
The CH-53K is designed to carry up to 27,000 lbs (around 12,250 kg) over a range of 110 nautical miles under high-hot ambient conditions, nearly tripling the external load carrying capacity of the CH-53E Super Stallion, according to Frans Jurgens, a spokesperson for Sikorsky. The K variant is a fly-by-wire helicopter with three 7,500-shaft horsepower GE engines and will be the first of the CH-53 family to feature an all-composite airframe and composite rotor blades.
“It really is an all-new aircraft in a previous design,” said Jurgens. “From the outside it will look like a CH-53, but the capability enhancements are phenomenal.”
Sikorsky delivered the CH-53K ground test vehicle (GTV) to the U.S. Marines in December 2012. Photo courtesy of Sikorsky
NAVAIR issued the contract as part of $3.5-billion System Development and Demonstration (SDD) contract issued to Sikorsky in April 2006. The agreement calls for 17 percent of the work to take place in Stratford, Conn. and another 17 at the manufacturer's flight test facility in West Palm Beach, Fla., with 15 percent of the work in Wichita, Kan., 10 percent in Salt Lake City, Utah and a number of other locations contributing in the low single-digit percentages.
The first flight for the CH-53K test aircraft is scheduled for the end of 2014, with delivery of all four aircraft expected by 2017 and initial operational capability by 2019.
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