The CH-53 series of helicopters have served the Marines well since the early 1960s. The latest production model, the CH-53E, has been in service since the early 1980s. An extensive redesign of the Stallion, by adding a third engine, and a seventh rotor blade, Sikorsky was able to produce the largest, most capable heavy lift helicopter in the Western world. But thirty year old designs eventually need to be replaced. Sikorsky and the Marines have teamed up to design the CH-53K, an even more powerful variant of the Stallion.
Now, under the military aircraft designation system, you’d think the “K” bird is just another variant of the family. After all, it looks like a Stallion, right?
Well, looks can be a bit deceiving. If you build a helicopter that has new engines, a new transmission, new rotors, new flight controls, and a new fuselage, isn’t that a new design? Basically the only thing it has in common with the earlier Stallions is the basic configuration.
Still, it is an evolutionary design, and a fairly low risk approach to providing a much needed boost to Marine Air heavy lift capability. It’s also been one of the few reasonably well run programs in the DoD lately. I’ve got high hopes the program will start putting birds on the ramp in the next few years.