The powerful helicopter hovered overhead with its bulky payload, silhouetted against the morning sun, the culmination of several days of collaboration between engineers, cargo specialists and Marines.
It was a crisp January morning at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, when a small group of Marines and Navy civilians looked on as the CH-53K King Stallion demonstrated a key capability, lifting a 18,870-pound Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) about 100 feet above the ground. It hovered there about 10 minutes.
“The payload capability of this helicopter is unmatched—triple that of its predecessor and better than any other heavy-lift helicopter in production,” explained Marine Corps Col. Hank Vanderborght, program manager for the H-53 Heavy Lift Helicopters Program Office.
“Watching these two high-priority programs come together on the flight line was an exceptional sight,” he added.
Though the occasion marked the first time the advanced aircraft conducted an external lift of a JLTV, it had already demonstrated lifts of external payloads of concrete slabs weighing up to 27,000 pounds. In February, the CH-53K Integrated Test Team (ITT) planned to increase that external weight envelope to 36,000 pounds.
The capability should prove invaluable on the battlefields of tomorrow, allowing the aircraft to lift the JLTV, which weighs on average between 16,000 and 22,000 pounds, and drop it into small, confined areas where trucks and boats cannot go.
On the ground that morning, amid the brush rippling under the powerful downwash, was a helicopter support team of Marines from Combat Logistics Battalion (CLB) 25. They had traveled from North Carolina to provide ground support during the demonstration, arranging the rigging and securing it to the aircraft using a single point hook—much in the same way Marines eventually will in the field.
The vehicle used for the demonstration was a four-seat model of the JLTV, known as the Combat Tactical Vehicle, supplied by the Army for the purposes of the demonstration. The JLTV is the Army and Marine Corps’ replacement for the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV). Both it and the CH-53K are in the testing phases of their development.
The demonstration was a collaborative effort between the program office, the CH-53K ITT and the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division Internal Cargo Lab, which performed the initial design and testing for the rigging that tethered the vehicle to the aircraft.
It was the first time the team of Marines had ever secured the vehicle to a CH-53K, which is designed to replace the CH-53E Super Stallion. The Marines later remarked on the aircraft’s smooth hover and stability.
“Safety is paramount while underneath the bird, because you have so many variables with the downwash of the aircraft,” said Cpl. Ronald Fritter, CLB-25. “With the hook not moving around at all, little to none, it makes our jobs easier.”
Written by Emanuel Cavallaro, a staff writer for Naval Air Systems Command Public Affairs.