PARIS, June 24 (UPI) -- The first of five prototype CH-53K Super Stallion helicopters is being built by Sikorsky at its Assembly and Flight Operations center in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Sikorsky, in a news release from the Paris Air Show, said the start of assembly of the ground test vehicle is an indicator of progress toward the system validation test phase of the Heavy Lift Replacement Program.
The CH-53K would replace the CH-53E used by the U.S. Marine Corps.
Sikorsky said when the GTV prototype is assembled, it will be delivered to the Sikorsky Development Flight Center, adjacent to the FAFO facility, to undergo ground-flight testing in early 2012. First flight is expected during fiscal year 2014.
The new aircraft program is planned to include production of more than 200 aircraft.
"When you see the components of the prototype aircraft being assembled, you begin to envision the power and capability that will be delivered with the CH-53K helicopter," said CH-53K Helicopter Program Manager David Zack.
"The main rotor hub and transmission on this new machine weigh 15,000 pounds -- as much as a Black Hawk helicopter -- and will carry nearly triple the payload of its predecessor, the CH-53E helicopter.
"This program is well beyond design and planning and the ground test vehicle is in position for of the assembly line. We are looking forward to realizing the benefits of our technological advancements to the build process, along with physical integration of the subsystems throughout the build and ground test process."
Sikorsky opened the FAFO assembly center in March, establishing a prototype assembly line for the new CH-53K Helicopter Operations Center. The state-of-the-art assembly facility provides wireless data connections to all operator plasma data screens and introduces the use of digital operation sheets to aid technicians through the four-position assembly line process.
The facility is outfitted with overhead power and air dropdowns, new aircraft work stands and overhead cranes to support aircraft final assembly and rotor head assembly operations.
Five prototype aircraft will be built at the FAFO facility and participate in the ground/flight test program, with two additional airframe ground test articles to be assembled at Sikorsky's main manufacturing plant in Stratford, Conn. Once assembled, the ground test articles will undergo a series of structural tests ensuring safe operations of the Engineering Development Model flight vehicles.
The helicopter demonstrators are being built under a $3 billion System Development and Demonstration contract. The SDD program comprises major subcontracts valued at more than $1.1 billion.
The CH-53K helicopter will maintain virtually the same footprint as its predecessor, the three-engine CH-53E, but will nearly triple the payload to 27,000 pounds over 110 nautical miles under "high hot" ambient conditions. The CH-53E helicopter is the largest, most powerful marinized helicopter in the world. It is deployed from U.S. Marine Corps amphibious assault ships to transport personnel and equipment and to carry external (sling) cargo loads.
The CH-53K helicopter's maximum gross weight with internal loads is 74,000 pounds compared to 69,750 pounds for the CH-53E. The CH-53K MGW with external loads is 88,000 pounds as compared to 73,500 for the CH-53E helicopter.
CH-53K helicopter features include: a modern glass cockpit; fly-by-wire flight controls with active inceptors; fourth-generation rotor blades with anhedral tips; a low-maintenance elastomeric rotor head; upgraded engines, each delivering in excess of 7,500 shaft horsepower; a locking cargo rail system; three external cargo hooks for improve cargo handling; improved survivability and reliability, maintainability and supportability. The program is expected to achieve the Initial Operational Capability milestone in 2018.