CH-53K Super Stallion Heavy-Lift Helicopter

The Sikorsky CH-53K Super Stallion heavy-lift helicopter is being developed by Sikorsky Aircraft to replace the CH-53E helicopter of the US Marine Corps (USMC). The USMC plans to acquire 200 CH-53K helicopters.

CH-53E Super Stallion

CH-53E Super Stallion

In 1967 the US Marine Corps issued a  requirement for a heavylift transport helicopter with a lifting capacity 1.8 times that of the CH-53D. The Sikorsky developed S-80 helicopter to meet this requirement. It evolved from the earlier Sikorsky S-65 (H-53 Sea Stallion) mainly by adding a third engine and a larger rotor system. A fuselage was stretched by 1.88 m. The S-80 prototype made its first flight in 1974. Since then it was the largest and most powerful helicopter outside Russia. Initial production contract was awarded in 1978. This helicopter was adopted by US Marine Corps as the CH-53E Super Stallion in 1981. The “CH” designation stands for “Cargo Helicopter”. The Super Stallion saw its first shipboard deployment in 1983. A total of 227 machines were built and 180 of them are still in service. Currently the Super Stallion is the largest and heaviest helicopter used by the US military. The CH-53E is expected to remain in service until 2025.

   US Marines are using these helicopters to deliver troops, vehicles and supplies from ships to shore. US Navy acquired a small number of these helicopters for shipboard resupply. Also US Navy uses a dedicated minesweeping version.

   This helicopter can carry 37 troops. With centerline seats installed the Super Stallion can carry 55 soldiers. Alternatively it can carry cargo with a maximum weight of 13.6 t internally and 14.5 t on external load. It is capable of lifting LAV-25 armored vehicle or M198 155 mm field howitzer with crew and ammunition. It can recover aircraft up to its own size.

   The Sea Stallion is operated by a crew of 5, including 2 pilots and a combat crew of 3 gunners. During peacetime it is flown only by 2 pilots.

CH-53E upgraded glass cockpit – Image:
Country of origin United States
Entered service 1981
Crew 2 – 5 men
Dimensions and weight
Length 30.2 m
Main rotor diameter 24 m
Height 8.46 m
Weight (empty) 15.07 t
Weight (maximum take off) 33.3 t
Engines and performance
Engines 3 x General Electric T64-GE-415 turboshafts
Engine power 3 x 4 380 shp
Maximum speed 315 km/h
Cruising speed 278 km/h
Service ceiling 5.64 km
Range 1 000 km
Ferry range 1 833 km
Passengers 37 / 55 men
Internal payload 13 600 kg
External payload 14 500 kg
Machine guns 2 x GAU-15/A, 1 x GAU-21

Ch-53E source

The Super Stallion can be fielded from amphibious assault ships for the transportation of personnel and equipment. It will also be used to carry external cargo loads. The aircraft can be operated from austere and remote forward operating bases.

Size comparison CH-53E vs CH-53K

The new helicopter will feature improved payload, range, and hot-high capabilities. It is expected to deliver reliable and cost-effective, low-maintenance and survivable solutions in all conditions.

Key performance parameter

A key performance parameter of the heavy-lift platform is its ability to perform its primary mission—carrying heavy stuff over long distances—in the thinner air created by high elevations and hot temperatures, or “high/hot” conditions, said Col. Hank Vanderborght, program manager for the H-53 Heavy Lift Helicopters Program Office (PMA-261) at Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR).

The CH-53K is required to carry 27,000 pounds in cargo from a sea-level base where the temperature is 103 degrees to a landing zone that is 110 nautical miles away and 3,000 feet above sea level where it is 91.5 degrees. Such conditions comprise the standard “Navy high/hot day,” in which the CH-53E only is capable of carrying 9,000 pounds.

“It’s awesome. The thing is a beast,” Vanderborght said of the King Stallion. “The Echo is an incredibly powerful helicopter as it is, the most powerful that we have in the U.S. military. The K is going to make the Echo look like a toy.” 

That step up in power is necessary after a decade of war in which the U.S. military has retrofitted its vehicles and gear with heavy armor and weapons to counter emerging threats like roadside bombs and insurgent ambushes. A CH-53E pilot by trade, Vanderborght noted that when he first started lifting Humvees in the 1990s, they weighed between 5,500 and 8,500 pounds depending on the version. Source

The USMC’s New CH-53K King Stallion Is One Royally Expensive Helicopter: Here



The USMC’s much needed replacement for the notoriously unreliable CH-53E Super Stallion heavy-lift helicopter has had its fair share of issues. But now as the CH-53K accelerates its flight testing, its price tag is what’s most concerning—costing a projected $122 million per helicopter. Yes, this is nearly the same unit price as the F-35B, the Joint Strike Fighter variant intended to replace the Marine Corps Harriers and and hundreds of their Hornets. 

The thing is, the USMC, once known for “getting more done with less,” has been aiming to have its air arm transform into an all high-end, “silver bullet”-technology equipped force. Case in point, the backbone of their helicopter fleet isn’t even a helicopter at all, it’s a tilt-rotor airplane—the MV-22 Osprey. Although the King Stallion’s price tag may seem outrageous, the USMC has spent tens of billions of dollars equipping itself with an all Osprey medium-lift “helicopter” fleet. Each Osprey, even after hundreds have been built, costs roughly $72 million each, and whereas the King Stallion is an absolutely necessary procurement item, the Osprey was a luxury the USMC chose to pursue. The service could have bought roughly three medium-lift helicopters for same price of a single MV-22. 

CH-53K King Stallion Flight Testing Begins Transition to Patuxent River Naval Air Station: Here


PATUXENT RIVER, Md., July 5, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) today announced the CH-53K King Stallion program has successfully completed its first extended “cross country” flight from Sikorsky’s West Palm Beach, Florida, facility to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. This is the first of several such flights that will occur during 2017 and 2018 as the CH-53K flight test program transitions to the flight test facilities at Patuxent River (PAX).

The CH-53K helicopter flew on June 30 from Sikorsky’s Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach to PAX, a distance of approximately 810 miles. Total flight time was six hours, with two en route fuel stops at Naval Air Station Mayport, Florida, and Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina. View the video.

CH-53K programme and development details

Sikorsky secured a $3.5bn system development and demonstration (SDD) contract from the US Department of Defense in April 2006, for the development, systems integration, production of test helicopter, and testing and evaluation of the helicopter.

Rockwell Collins was awarded a contract in June 2006 to provide an avionics management system for the CH-53K helicopter.


In December 2006, GE Aviation was selected to provide three GE38-1B turboshaft engines. Hamilton Sundstrand was selected to provide an auxiliary power unit (APU), environmental control system (ECS) and the main engine start system consisting of an air turbine starter and start control valve.

Sikorsky selected a Fuselage Team in May 2007 to design and build the major fuselage sections of the helicopter. The team consists of Aurora Flight Sciences, EDO Corp, GKN Aerospace, and Spirit AeroSystems.

Sikorsky CH-53K Fuselage Supplier Team


Sikorsky’s Fuselage Team will consist of Aurora Flight Sciences, EDO Corp., GKN Aerospace, and Spirit AeroSystems. They were selected following an extensive solicitation and evaluation of multiple bids over a 12-month competition. Source

The first APU light-off test was conducted in August 2010. The CH-53K prototype aircraft is expected to perform its maiden flight in late 2014.

A new facility was opened at the Florida Assembly and Flight Operations (FAFO) campus, in March 2011, to perform CH-53K’s experimental assembly line operations. Assembly of the CH-53K Ground Test Vehicle (GTV) began in June 2011 and the first GTV prototype was delivered in December 2012.


A total of seven prototype helicopters will be built and delivered during the system design and development programme. The four prototypes will be deployed as engineering development vehicles, while the other three will serve as dedicated ground test vehicle, static test article and fatigue test platform.

The second prototype of the CH-53K helicopter made its maiden flight: Here

The Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) placed a $435m contract with Sikorsky in May 2013 to build four production-representative CH-53K helicopters, designated as System Demonstration Test Articles (SDTA), for the USMC. The deliveries are scheduled to conclude in March 2017 and the initial operational capability is planned for 2019.

Spirit AeroSystems was awarded a $60m contract in June 2013 to provide major structural cockpit and cabin components for the SDTA aircraft.

In October 2013, Kratos Defense & Security Solutions received an $8.5m contract to design and develop maintenance training systems.


Design and features of CH-53K

The CH-53K will employ tip-to-tail technology in a new hybrid composite airframe for additional payload and range capability. The fuselage will incorporate lightweight armour and crashworthy retractable landing gear.

Energy-absorbing strut

The tail of the CH-53K features an energy-absorbing strut. – Source

The helicopter will feature elastomeric main rotor head integrating 10ft long fourth generation rotor blades with advanced airfoils, upgraded engine system, cargo rail locking system, external cargo handling enhancements, and enhanced ballistic protection and survivability systems.

Elastomeric main rotor hub

The CH-53K has an elastomeric main rotor hub and new composite rotor blades, which eliminate the pressurized spar found in earlier CH-53 models. – Source

Composite main rotor blades


Machine is fitted with next-generation composite main rotor blades. Blades are folded automatically. These are the largest and most advanced blades Sikorsky has ever produced. Source

Composite flexbeams tail-rotor component

The operational goal is a three-fold increase in external load-carrying capacity, to more than 27,000 lb/12,247 kg over a mission range of 110 nautical miles/204 km. The extended payload capacity will be partially enabled by composites that include 35-ft/10.7m long fourth-generation rotor blades and a new, hybrid metal-composite airframe, which the OEM, Sikorsky (Stratford, Conn.), claims is more than 75 percent composite. 

One of the enabling composite structures is the flexbeam, a flight-critical tail-rotor component that attaches the spar, upper skin and lower skin in each rotor blade to the rear horizontal shaft. The structure, 64 inches long by 13.5 inches wide by 3 inches thick (1,626 mm by 343 mm by 76 mm), has a dogbone shape reminiscent of a tensile test specimen, but with a 9° twist along its axis. Source

The maximum gross weight of the helicopter will be 33,566kg, whereas the maximum alternate gross weight will be 38,419kg.

CH-53K’s sponsons are slightly narrower

The CH-53K’s sponsons are slightly narrower than the sponsons and “bat wing” auxiliary fuel tanks on the E model. – Source:

Cockpit and cabin

CH-53K King Stallion during the roll out ceremony at Sikorsky Aircraft

The joint interoperable glass cockpit of the CH-53K will provide the operators with additional capabilities and situational awareness.


It will accommodate a pilot and a co-pilot, and three combat support crew members. It will be equipped with a fly-by-wire flight control system and improved electrical systems.

The CH-53K’s windows have been enlarged to permit easier exit in an emergency, and its troop seats are fully crashworthy. Sikorsky Photo – Source

The CH-53K will feature crashworthy seats for occupants. Its cabin measures 9.1m in length, 2.7m in width and 2m in height. The cabin area and volume will be 24.6m² and 9.1m³ respectively.

CH-53K – Image:

Cabin area & payload capacity

The CH-53K has a built-in winch and a wider cabin interior than its Super Stallion predecessor. Sikorsky Photo – Source:

The CH-53K has a payload capacity of 15.9 t. The previous CH-53E with centerline seats installed can carry 55 soldiers. So the new helicopter should carry similar number of troops. The King Stallion has significantly increased lift capability over the previous Super Stallion. It can recover downed air vehicles. Also it can transport heavy weapons and vehicles externally. Source

Avionics onboard CH-53K

The integrated avionics management system (AMS) of the CH-53K will provide advanced flight planning and navigation capability. It will be equipped with fully integrated active matrix liquid crystal multifunction displays, dual integrated processing cabinets, dual control display units and dual data transfer units.

SKI06-1405-Florida-139CH-53K King Stallion during the roll out ceremony at Sikorsky Aircraft

The other equipment and systems will include a digital moving map, forward looking infrared (FLIR) system and electronic countermeasures. The AMS ensures the management of primary flight instrumentation, display systems, vehicle operational characteristics, civil and military flights and navigation and communication systems.


CH-53K Super Stallion Engine


The CH-53K helicopter will be powered by three General Electric GE38-1B turboshaft engines controlled by a dual-channel Full Authority Digital Electronic Control (FADEC) system. The GE38-1B comprises a five-stage axial compressor mated with a single-stage centrifugal compressor. It is also equipped with an annular combustor, two-stage gas generator turbine, and three-stage power turbine.

The engines are rated at a maximum take-off power of 13,748kW and will ensure stall-free performance in all conditions.

General Electric GE38-1B turboshaft

3 × *General Electric GE38-1B turboshaft, * 7,500 shp (5,600 kW) each

The General Electric GE38 is a gas turbine developed by GE Aviation for turboprop and turboshaft applications. It is to power the Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion as the T408.

In the late 1980s, GE used the GE27 as the basis for its GE38 commercial engine development. The GE38 became the T407 turboprop in partnership with Lycoming Engines for the Lockheed P-7, with a maximum takeoff power of 6,000 shp (4,475 kW). The P-7 program was canceled in 1990, as was the engine. The commercial version of the T407 was the GLC38, which was unsuccessfully offered for several turboprop airliners in the early 1990s.


The new T408 (GE38-1B) is slated to power the new Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion three-engined helicopter for the US Marine Corps. It has a power rating of 7,500 shp. The GE38 completed its first round of ground testing in May 2010. Two test engines have completed over 1,000 hours of ground testing by November 2011. Five test engines will be used in the 5,000-hour test program. GE also offered the engine to power the US Navy’s Ship-to-Shore Connector Air-cushioned landing craft.

With improved fuel efficiency and maintainability, the CH-53K should be less expensive to operate than the CH-53E. “The 53 Echo is an expensive aircraft to fly,” said CH-53K chief designer Andreas Bernhard. “For the Marines, it is a serious burden and a hard decision on when do you send the 53 Echo, because it’s so expensive.” Source

Specifications (T408)

Data from GE Aviation

General characteristics

  • Type: Turboprop / Turboshaft
  • Length: 57.5 inches (1.46 m) (79.5 in with Torque Tube)
  • Diameter: 27 inches (0.69 m)
  • Dry weight: 1,104.7 pounds (501.1 kg)


  • Compressor: 5+1 Axi-Centrifugal Compressor (5 Axial stages and 1 Centrifugal stage)
  • Turbine: a 3-Stage Power Turbine, a 2-Stage-Single Crystal Cooled HP Turbine
  • Oil system: synthetic


  • Maximum power output: 7,500 shaft horsepower (5,600 kW)
  • Overall pressure ratio: 18.6:1 OPR
  • Power-to-weight ratio: 6.8 shp/lb (11.2 kW/kg)

GE38-1B source

Performance features of CH-53K

The CH-53K will have a maximum cruise speed of 315km/h and a maximum range of 841km. The helicopter will have hovering in ground effect ceiling of 2,902m, hovering out of ground effect ceiling of 969m, and one engine inoperative (OEI) service ceiling of 2,213m. The all engine operable service (AEO) ceiling of the helicopter will be 4,383m.

Sikorsky CH-53K Reaches 170 Knots During Testing: Here



The 53K showed in testing conducted for the Marines in October of 2016 that it was capable of lifting a 27,000 pound load (12,200kgs) during a test flight lasting over 100 nautical miles. Among other tests performed, the 53K also reached a speed of 170 knots with power in reserve if and when needed.

Specifications (CH-53K)


* = data for K model. All others for E model.

Data from Sikorsky CH-53K sources, GE38-1B data,

General characteristics

Number of Engines 3
Engine Type T408-GE-400
T408 Engine 7,500 shp/5,595 kw
Maximum Gross Weight (Internal Load) 74,000 lbs/33,566 kg
Maximum Gross Weight (External Load) 88,000 lbs/39,916 kg
Cruise Speed 141 knots/162 mph/261 km/h
Range 460 NM/530 miles/852 km
AEO* Service Ceiling 14,380 feet/4,383 m
HIGE** Ceiling (MAGW) 13,630 feet/4,155 m
HOGE*** Ceiling (MAGW) 10,080 feet/3,073 m
Cabin Length 30 feet/9.1 m
Cabin Width 9 feet/2.7 m
Cabin Height 6.5 feet/2.0 m
Cabin Area 264.47 feet2/24.57 m2
Cabin Volume 1,735.36 feet3/49.14 m3

* All Engines Operating

** Hover Ceiling In Ground Effect

*** Hover Ceiling Out of Ground Effect



Armament source

Main material

Revised Apr 01, 2017

Updated Jul 15, 2017


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