US Navy completes second sea trial with CH-53K King Stallion

The US Navy revealed on April 5 that the USMC’s new heavy-lift transport helicopter, the CH-53K King Stallion, had successfully completed another sea trial while operating aboard the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, USS Arlington (LPD-24), in the Atlantic Ocean in February.

This second sea trial comprised five full days and nights of envelope expansion testing while at sea in the Atlantic and involved approximately 105 personnel from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 21 (HX-21) ‘Blackjack’, Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461 (HMH-461) ‘Ironhorse’, Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VMX-1) and the H-53 Heavy Lift Helicopters Program Office, along with pilots, engineers, technicians and maintainers from the CH-53K’s original equipment manufacturer, Sikorsky. The event continued a series of testing in a modern naval environment following the platform’s success in its first sea trial, which took place in June 2020.

Sailors assigned to the US Navy's amphibious transport dock ship, USS Arlington (LPD-24), remove blocks and chains from a CH-53K King Stallion during sea trial flight operations aboard the vessel while it was operating in the Atlantic Ocean on February 14, 2023.
Sailors assigned to the US Navy's amphibious transport dock ship, USS Arlington (LPD-24), remove blocks and chains from a CH-53K King Stallion during sea trial flight operations aboard the vessel while it was operating in the Atlantic Ocean on February 14, 2023. US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class John Bellino

Commenting on the latest sea trial, Col Kate Fleeger – program manager for the Navy’s H-53 Heavy Lift Helicopters Program Office – said: “The latest sea trials were another great success for the CH-53K program. Data analysis has shown a greater CH-53K LPD [Landing Platform Dock] launch and recovery envelope than that of the CH-53E.”

Sea trials are designed to evaluate the performance of new aircraft – both fixed- and rotary-wing – while operating at sea. During this second trial, the CH-53K performed a variety of tests, including launch and recovery; rotor start and shutdown; blade fold; and shipboard compatibility testing – all in increasing windspeed and varying wind directions relative to the helicopter. Shipboard compatibility testing includes towing the CH-53K around the flight deck and in the hangar; conducting maintenance while aboard the ship, evaluating chain/tie-down procedures and ensuring the helicopter fits in all the locations it needs to while operating from the vessel.

Sarah Naiva, Assistant Program Manager for Test and Evaluation of the CH-53K, added: “The joint team overcame numerous challenges, such as tumultuous seas, and their hard work and dedication will provide the fleet with greater flexibility to launch and recover the CH-53K in more severe weather conditions and mission scenarios where an LPD has limited steering.”

Naiva explained that the results of these tests will enable the King Stallion to provide “critical ship-to-shore heavy lift capability for future Marine Expeditionary Unit deployments.” The USMC continues its transition from the legacy CH-53E to the CH-53K, which is on schedule to achieve Full Operational Capability in FY29.