Helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky says has turned over the first prototype of a new heavy lift helicopter to the United States Marine Corps. The CH-53K is designed to replace older helicopters already in the US arsenal.
The CH-53K project was conceived in 2003 with development work starting in 2005, it was not until 2010 the main rotor blade and gear box were developed into maturity.
According to the Government Accountability Office four flight test helicopters will join the testing program in 2014-2015. The GAO says there is still a distance to go on the program with the low rate production decision set for the late summer of 2015 and the initial operating capacity not expected before 2019.
In 2008 the USMC increased its order from 156 CH-53K's to 200 in line with an expected increase in Marine numbers from 174,000 to 202,000,. However, in August of 2011 it was stated the USMC numbers could fall by 20,000 starting in 2015.
Col. Robert Pridgen, program manager for the heavy lift helicopters, says "I am encouraged by the initial results of our testing at the component and subsystem level. Now we bring it all together.