Sikorsky’s CH-53K King Stallion has successfully completed air-to-air refuelling tests, demonstrating the platform’s long-range capabilities for the US Marine Corps (USMC).
The US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) confirmed on April 9 that the platform had achieved the milestone, saying that the heavy-lift tactical transport helicopter completed the 4.5-hour long test over Chesapeake Bay in Maryland/Virginia.
During the test, the King Stallion was supported by a Lockheed Martin KC-130J tanker aircraft. The CH-53K test team conducted a wake survey to assess the performance of the helicopter when flying behind the tanker in strong, turbulent air. The aircraft’s crew successfully plugged the drogue with its aerial refuelling probe. These tests were performed at increasing closure rates to ensure that the CH-53K can handle the forces on its refuelling probe when contacting the drogue basket during air-to-air refuelling operations. No fuel was transferred during the test.
Col Jack Perrin, H-53 heavy-lift helicopters (PMA-261) programme manager, said: “The aircraft was able to meet the desired performance for all engagements… The ‘K’ is the long-range enabler that we need now and into the future.”
Bill Falk, CH-53K programme director at Sikorsky, added: “The successful air-to-air [refuelling] test reinforces the superior capabilities of the CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter and its ability to carry more marines, cargo and equipment over longer ranges and in more challenging environments than any other rotorcraft in the world.”
Sikorsky and the USMC are continuing the CH-53K’s reprogrammed development and testing timeline, moving towards entering initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) next year and the type’s first fleet deployment in 2023-24.