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CH-53E Super Stallion

The CH-53E Super Stallion, the Marine Corps' heavy lift helicopter, is one of the few helicopters in the world configured with 3 gas turbine engines and in-flight refueling. The CH-53E is a larger version of the CH-53 Sea Stallion, and the largest helicopter in the U.S. military inventory. It is used to transport personnel and equipment, lift heavy loads and conduct minesweeping missions. The Air Force version, equipped with sophisticated electronic countermeasures systems, is used for long-range delivery and resupply of special operations forces and combat rescue missions.

Designed for the transportation of material and supplies, it is compatible with most amphibious class ships and is carried routinely aboard LHA (Landing, Helicopter, Assault: an amphibious assault ship), LPH (Landing Platform, Helicopter: an amphibious assault ship) and now LHD (Landing, Helicopter, Dock: an amphibious assault ship) type ships. The helicopter is capable of lifting 16 tons (14.5 metric tons) at sea level, transporting the load 50 nautical miles (57.5 miles) and returning. A typical load would be a 16,000 pound (7264 kilogram) M198 howitzer or a 26,000 pound (11,804 kilogram) Light Armored Vehicle. The aircraft also can retrieve downed aircraft including another CH-53E. The 53E is equipped with a refueling probe and can be refueled in flight giving the helicopter indefinite range.

The CH-53E Super Stallion is a shipboard helicopter configured for the lift and movement of cargo and personnel and the external lift of heavy oversized equipment. The CH-53E is the only helicopter capable of lifting some of the new weapon systems in the Marine Corps, including the M-198 Howitzer and the variants of the new Light Armored Vehicle (LAV). The MH-53E Sea Dragon is a multimission variant of the CH-53E with enhanced airborne mine countermeasures capability over the Navy RH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter, including increased range and navigation capability. The CH-53E is the largest helicopter in the western world, with a maximum gross weight of 73,500 pounds. Its increased military capabilities over the earlier CH53 models include larger payloads, extended range and inflight refueling.

The CH-53E Super Stallion is a follow-on for its predecessor, the CH-53D Sea Stallion. Improvements include the addition of a third engine to give the aircraft the ability to lift the majority of the Fleet Marine Force's equipment, a dual point cargo hook system, improved main rotor blades, and composite tail rotor blades. A dual digital automatic flight control system and engine anti-ice system give the aircraft an all-weather capability. The helicopter seats 37 passengers in its normal configuration and has provisions to carry 55 passengers with centerline seats installed. With the dual point hook systems, it can carry external loads at increased airspeeds due to the stability achieved with the dual point system.

Derived from an engineering change proposal to the twin-engine CH-53D helicopter, the CH-53E has consistently proven its worth to the Fleet commanders with its versatility and range. With four and one half hours' endurance, the Super Stallion can move more equipment over rugged terrain in bad weather and at night. During Operation Eastern Exit two CH-53Es launched from amphibious ships and flew 463 nautical miles (532.45 miles) at night, refueling twice enroute, to rescue American and foreign allies from the American Embassy in the civil war-torn capital of Mogadishu, Somalia in January of 1990. Two CH-53Es rescued Air Force Capt. Scott O'Grady in Bosnia in June 1995.

In recent years, one of the major thrusts in the helicopter industry has been to produce more aesthetically pleasing designs. One exception to this has been the CH-53 Sea Stallion which, in its new CH-53E Super Stallion model and the MH-53E mine countermeasures version, has regressed significantly with various appurtenances and surfaces at different odd angles. However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the Marine combat officer who needs to move a 16-ton external load over rugged terrain to achieve his objective would find the newest Marine helicopter, hovering overhead as it picks up the load, beautiful!

The CH-53E is an obvious derivative from its CH-53 series forebears. However, the major changes necessary to provide the largest lift capability in the free world have resulted in its being given a new company model number, S-80 in lieu of S-65, for non-U.S. military sales. In many ways, like Topsy, it just grew from the earlier models. Recognizing the need for increased lift capability but not to the extent considered necessary by the Army in its HLH (heavy lift helicopter) program, the Marines, the Naval Air Systems Command and Sikorsky combined forces to develop the CH-53 from a 10-ton to a 16-plus-ton lifter.

Starting off with two concepts, a third engine and a seventh main rotor blade (all with increased diameter), a ground test rig was first built in the early 1970s. Two YCH-53E prototypes followed successful completion of these tests, the first making its initial hovering and limited maneuvering flight on 1 March 1974. In addition to the engine and rotor changes and generally increased size, the most obvious change was in the tail configuration: a low-mounted symmetrical horizontal tail was surmounted by a larger vertical tail and tail rotor tilted from the vertical so that the tail rotor provided some lift in hover while counteracting the main rotor torque.

Not as obvious were the many internal improvements, particularly a new automatic flight control system. By August 1974, the first YCH-53E had shown that it could lift 17.8 tons to a 50-foot wheel height and, without an external load, could reach 170 knots at a 56,000-pound gross weight. The capabilities demonstrated were such that, in spite of a number of setbacks in the subsequent development test program, NPEs and other milestones were achieved, and the first two preproduction aircraft and a static test article were ordered, the first flying in December 1975. By this time, the tail had been redesigned to include a single, high-mounted, strut-braced horizontal surface opposite the rotor on the 20-degree canted vertical surface, the inboard section being perpendicular to the vertical with a bend to horizontal at the strut juncture.

By the spring of 1977 testing, including shipboard trials on Iwo Jima, was well along and full production was subsequently ordered. The Dual Digital Automatic Flight Control System had proven its worth--technologically one of the newest systems in the Super Stallion and one that gives it exceptionally good flying qualities in all flight modes.

The first production aircraft flew in December 1980, being delivered to Marine squadron HMH-464 in mid-1981. Further Marine deliveries have continued and Navy squadron HM-12 took delivery of its first Navy CH-53E in November 1982 for vertical onboard delivery (VOD) operations. Modification of the first Navy production CH-53E to the MH-53E configuration led to the MH version being the Navy's principal mine countermeasures helicopter beginning in 1986. Its capability to lift (including retrieval of all Marine and most Navy carrier tactical aircraft, as well as itself), to transport heavy internal loads at reasonable speeds for extended ranges, and to tow MCM gear for long durations, makes the Super Stallion a mainstay of Naval Aviation for many years to come.

In 1994 the Navy had planned to buy 4 CH-53E aircraft in fiscal year 1995. However, the actual budget request for fiscal year 1995 included only $41.1 million to close the CH-53 production line. This decision reflected a broader Navy plan that included shifting CH-53E helicopters from Navy vertical on-board delivery (VOD) squadrons to the Marine Corps; back-filling VOD squadrons with MH-53Es from airborne mine countermeasures (AMCM) squadrons; and outfitting some air-cushion landing craft (LCAC) with mine countermeasures equipment, making it an "MCAC." These actions persuaded the Navy that it could truncate procurement of the CH-53Es at the end of the fiscal year 1994 buy. The 4 CH-53Es that the Navy had planned to buy already represented a reduction from previous estimates, which had included purchases of MH-53Es as well. This change reflected in part a Navy decision to reduce AMCM force structure. In 1994, concerned about apparent year-to-year inconsistencies in the Navy's force structure plans, the Senate Armed Services Committee asked the Navy for a study of mine countermeasures force levels. The Navy's report concluded that the overall mine countermeasures force structure was marginally adequate to support the mine countermeasures scenarios that the Navy studied. However, the report analyzed requirements only for sea lines of communications (areas like the Straits of Hormuz or the Sea of Japan). It did not deal with mine countermeasures operations to support port operations or amphibious operations.

From FY 1996 through FY 1997, a Service Life Assessment Program (SLAP) was conducted to develop usage and fatigue life profile, and an Integrated Mechanical Diagnostic (IMD) system for the H-53E. FY 1998 Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) begins to correct deficiencies in aircraft dynamic components and mission systems. The effort will increase reliability, maintainability, and safety while reducing the cost of ownership. The Marine Corps Aviation Plan shows the CH-53D remaining in service through 2015. Therefore a Service Life Assessment Program (SLAP) must be conducted in order to ascertain what actions must be taken to safely operate the aircraft until it is replaced by the MV-22. The results of these efforts will be used to justify APN-5 funding of a SLEP for the CH-53D if warranted. FY 99 funding is also utilized for Phase II of the CH-53E SLEP.

In August 2000 the Marine Corps grounded its fleet of 155 CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters, because of failing components. Full recovery of the CH-53E fleet was achieved in March 2001.

Over 50% of all helicopter safety critical defects are related to engine, gearbox and mechanical drive-train failures. Advanced vibration monitoring systems enable such defects to be diagnosed and isolated before critical failure, thus improving airworthiness. The introduction of such systems also greatly reduces the need for routine preventative inspections, thus improving fleet availability. Demonstrated on US Navy SH-60 and Australian S-70, the technology is in-service on CH-53 Sea Stallion, SH-60 Sea Hawk and AH-1Z Cobra as part of the Integrated Mechanical Diagnostics (IMD) system.

Since their arrival in Djibouti in early April 2003, HMH 461 was instrumental in accomplishing the Combined Joint Task Force Horn-of-Africa's mission of detecting, disrupting and defending against trans-national terrorists by supplying organic operational reach and providing flexibility to a wide variety of counter-terrorism activities across the region. The Ramp Mounted Weapon System (RMWS) has been added to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron's CH-53 Super Stallion helicopters, giving them 180 degrees of defensive fire from the rear of the aircraft. The RMWS was being evaluated as a possible defensive weapon system for several assault support aircraft in the Marine Corps, but HMH 461 is the first Fleet Marine Force squadron to actually implement the system in real-word operations. The RMWS is a Fabrique Nationale (FN) M3M .50-caliber machine gun modified into a weapon system specific for Marine Corps applications.

The CH-53 has tremendous capabilities and there have been several instances where this capability could have directly benefited Marines. The missions the CH-53 has been called upon to do have been long-range, over the horizon, sometimes without escort missions. Durning the O'Grady rescue in September 1995, they were able to take Cobras with them, but it was a relatively long-range, over the horizon mission. The inability to have a rear-mounted suppressive fire capability could have cost them significantly. Fortunately, the missiles that were shot at them didn't impact the aircraft. During missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Marines were cargo strapping personnel on the ramp of the aircraft with M16's (Marine standard issue assault rifle) and M60's (medium machine gun) to provide a rear suppressive-fire capability.

In mid-2005 three H-53 Sea Stallion helicopters were brought out of retirement and transported between Aug. 9-11 to Naval Air (NAVAIR) Depot (NADEP) Cherry Point, NC, where they were upgraded before being put back into active service. This marked this first time H-53s have been recalled from the nation's war reserve, also known as the aircraft "bone yard," at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, AZ. The Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center located there maintains more than 5,000 excess DoD and Coast Guard aircraft for the nation's war needs.

The H-53 is critical to the fleet and is the only heavy-lift helicopter in the Marine Corps. These helicopters can carry internal and external cargo and transport up to 55 troops. Essential for bringing necessary supplies to Marines on the front lines, the aircraft are also used for long-range insertion and search and rescue missions, and they are capable of in-flight refueling.

It's very much the workhorse of the Marine Corps and is the most heavily utilized aircraft in the fleet. Unfortunately, there are just not enough of them. The Marine Corps has lost many H-53s in the last few years because of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and needs to increase the amount available.

The Marines activated these war reserve CH-53E helicopters to sustain high, hot and long duration heavy lift for US and coalition forces engaged in the global war on terrorism. The Marines hadn't lost any aircraft to enemy action, but the harsh and unforgiving natural environment where these aircraft are relied upon for day-to-day logistics and assault support has taken its toll. In order to meet present mission requirements, deployed Marines have to transfer aircraft between squadrons.

The three H-53s had been in the bone yard for about 11 years and were approximately 22 years old. Production on the H-53s ceased in 1999 and has not yet begun on its prospective replacement, the HLR or the Heavy Lift Replacement helicopter.



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