US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) announced on June 9 that the first Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion test aircraft had been retired from use after the heavy-lift transport helicopter completed its final flight earlier in the month.
The CH-53K (believed to be BuNo 169019, also known as ‘Engineering Development Model-1’) was the first King Stallion to take flight from Sikorsky’s facility in West Palm Beach, Florida, on October 27, 2015. Since then, this helicopter had been used as a structural testbed and to expand the flight and performance envelope of the CH-53K fleet. NAVAIR noted that this test aircraft had “logged 753 flight hours and 214 ground hours” in total before it was retired from flying, adding that the CH-53K “will now be used as a maintenance trainer for [the] Marines.”
While the USMC’s CH-53K development and acquisition programme has suffered a number of delays and setbacks, progress is now starting to rapidly pick up. The first System Demonstration Test Article (SDTA)-configured CH-53K was delivered to the USMC’s Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VMX-1) at MCAS Yuma, Arizona, in May 2018. In January 2022, Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461 (HMH-461) ‘Ironhorse’ at MCAS New River in North Carolina became the first legacy CH-53E Super Stallion unit to begin its transition to the King Stallion. On April 22, 2022, Lt Gen Mark R Wise – the USMC’s Deputy Commandant for Aviation – declared initial operational capability (IOC) for the CH-53K fleet. The USMC plans to acquire 200 CH-53Ks in total, with the type having formally entered full-rate production (FRP) in December 2022.