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Prototype for Sikorsky's heavy lift helicopter rolls off assembly line

HARTFORD, Conn. — A prototype of the heavy lifting helicopter that Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. is developing for the U.S. Marine Corps moved Tuesday from assembly line to test team.

Hundreds of hours of ground testing await the first CH-53K prototype, called the Ground Test Vehicle. The helicopter was engineered in Stratford, at the company's headquarters, and rolled off the prototype assembly line in West Palm Beach, Fla. It has yet to be decided where Sikorsky will produce the 200 or so helicopters to fill the Marines' order.

The prototype's primary purpose, said Michael Torok, vice president of Sikorsky's CH-53K program, is to test the helicopter's "dynamic systems by thoroughly testing and measuring the performance of the rotor blades, transmission, and engines while the aircraft is tied to the ground." Temperature, aerodynamic loads, pressure and vibrations will be tested.

The tests will help determine "whether these dynamic systems, as well as hydraulic, electrical, and avionics systems, can meet the requirements established by the Marines for their next-generation heavy lift helicopter," Torok said.

Subsystem and component tests for the CH-53K showed good results, said Col. Robert Pridgen, program manager for the Marines' heavy lift helicopters. "Now we bring it all together."

Two other ground prototypes are going through structural testing in Stratford.

Sikorsky and the Marines expect the helicopter to replace the CH-53E Super Stallion in 2019. The replacement will be able to carry three times the load as the Super Stallion, or 27,000 pounds for 110 nautical miles in thin air with hot temperatures.

Test engineers will spend months measuring the prototype's systems, before four flight test helicopters are ready for inspection in 2014-15. The ground and air prototypes are part of the $3.5 billion systems development and demonstration contract for the heavy lift program.

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