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The CH-53 was the product of the U.S. Marines' "Heavy Helicopter Experimental" (HH(X)) competition begun in 1962. Sikorsky's S-65 was selected over Boeing Vertol's modified CH-47 Chinook version. The prototype YCH-53A first flew on 14 October 1964. The helicopter was designated "CH-53A Sea Stallion" and delivery of production helicopters began in 1966. The first CH-53As were powered by two General Electric T64-GE-6 turboshaft engines with 2,850 shp (2,125 kW) and had a maximum gross weight of 46,000 lb (20,865 kg) including 20,000 lb (9,072 kg) in payload.
Variants of the original CH-53A Sea Stallion include the RH-53A/D, HH-53B/C, CH-53D, CH-53G, and MH-53H/J/M. The RH-53A and RH-53D were used by the US Navy for mine sweeping. The CH-53D included a more powerful version of the General Electric T64 engine, used in all H-53 variants, and external fuel tanks. The CH-53G was a version of the CH-53D produced in West Germany for the German Army.
The US Air Force's HH-53B/C "Super Jolly Green Giant" were for special operations and combat rescue and were first deployed during the Vietnam War. The Air Force's MH-53H/J/M Pave Low helicopters were the last of the twin engined H-53s and were equipped with extensive avionics upgrades for all weather operation.
In October 1967, the US Marine Corps issued a requirement for a helicopter with a lifting capacity 1.8 times that of the CH-53D that would fit on amphibious warfare ships. The US Navy and US Army were also seeking similar helicopters at the time. Before issue of the requirement Sikorsky had been working on an enhancement to the CH-53D, under the company designation "S-80", featuring a third turboshaft engine and a more powerful rotor system. Sikorsky proposed the S-80 design to the Marines in 1968. The Marines liked the idea since it promised to deliver a good solution quickly, and funded development of a testbed helicopter for evaluation.
The YCH-53E on its first flight, 1 March 1974
In 1970, against pressure by the US Defense Secretary to take the Boeing Vertol XCH-62 being developed for the Army, the Navy and Marines were able to show the Army's helicopter was too large to operate on landing ships and were allowed to pursue their helicopter. Prototype testing investigated the addition of a third engine and a larger rotor system with a seventh blade in the early 1970s. In 1974, the initial YCH-53E first flew.
Changes on the CH-53E also include a stronger transmission and a fuselage stretched 6 feet 2 inches (1.88 m). The main rotor blades were changed to a titanium-fiberglass composite. The tail configuration was also changed. The low-mounted symmetrical horizontal tail was replaced by a larger vertical tail and the tail rotor tilted from the vertical to provide some lift in hover while counteracting the main rotor torque. Also added was a new automatic flight control system. The digital flight control system prevented the pilot from overstressing the aircraft.
YCH-53E testing showed that it could lift 17.8 tons (to a 50-foot (15 m) wheel height), and without an external load, could reach 170 knots (310 km/h) at a 56,000 pound gross weight. This led to two preproduction aircraft and a static test article being ordered. At this time the tail was redesigned to include a high-mounted, horizontal surface opposite the rotor with an inboard section perpendicular to the tail rotor then at the strut connection cants 20 degrees to horizontal.
A production CH-53E during flight demonstration showing the three engines and the tail rotor pylon
The initial production contract was awarded in 1978, and service introduction followed in February 1981. The first production CH-53E flew in December 1980. The US Navy acquired the CH-53E in small numbers for shipboard resupply. The Marines and Navy acquired a total of 177.
The Navy requested a version of the CH-53E for the airborne mine countermeasures role, designated "MH-53E Sea Dragon". It has enlarged sponsons to provide substantially greater fuel storage and endurance. It also retained the in-flight refueling probe, and could be fitted with up to seven 300 US gallon (1,136 liter) ferry tanks internally. The MH-53E digital flight-control system includes features specifically designed to help tow minesweeping gear. The prototype MH-53E made its first flight on 23 December 1981. MH-53E was used by the Navy beginning in 1986. The MH-53E is capable of in-flight refueling and can be refueled at hover.
A MH-53E Sea Dragon from HM-15 during a mine sweeping exercise, 2007
The base model CH-53E serves both the US Navy and Marines in the heavy lift transport role. It is capable of lifting heavy equipment including the eight-wheeled LAV-25 Light Armored Vehicle, the M198 155 mm Howitzer with ammunition and crew. The Super Stallion can recover aircraft up to its size, which includes all Marine Corps aircraft except for the KC-130.
The 53E needs 40 maintenance hours per flight hour due to aging parts, lack of available new replacement parts and the extension of the overall airframe lifetime.
This section needs to be updated. Please update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information.(December 2019)
The US Marine Corps had been planning to upgrade most of their CH-53Es to keep them in service, but this plan stalled. Sikorsky then proposed a new version, originally the "CH-53X", and in April 2006, the USMC signed a contract for 156 aircraft as the "CH-53K". The Marines are planning to start retiring CH-53Es in 2009 and need new helicopters very quickly.
In August 2007, the USMC increased its order of CH-53Ks to 227. Their first flight was planned for November 2011 with initial operating capability by 2015.
View of the CH-53E's cockpit during an in-flight refueling operation with an Air Force HC-130 Hercules
Although dimensionally similar, the three engine CH-53E Super Stallion or Sikorsky S-80 is a much more powerful aircraft than the original Sikorsky S-65 twin engined CH-53A Sea Stallion. The CH-53E also added a larger main rotor system with a seventh blade.
The CH-53E was designed for transporting up to 55 troops with the installation of seats along the cabin center line or 30,000 lb (13,610 kg) of cargo and can carry external slung loads up to 36,000 lb (16,330 kg). The CH-53E has incorporated the same crash attenuating seats as the MV-22B to increase survivability of passengers but reduced its troop transport capacity to 30. The Super Stallion has a cruise speed of 173 mph (278 km/h) and a range of 621 miles (1,000 km). The helicopter is fitted with a forward extendable in-flight refueling probe. It can carry three machine guns: one at the starboard side crew door; one at the port window, just behind the copilot; and a firing position on the tail ramp. The CH-53E also has chaff-flare dispensers.
The MH-53E features enlarged side mounted fuel sponsons and is rigged for towing various minesweeping and hunting gear from above the dangerous naval mines. The Sea Dragon can be equipped for minesweeping, cargo and passenger transportation. Its digital flight-control system includes features specifically designed to help towing mine sweeping gear.
The CH-53E and the MH-53E are the largest helicopters in the Western world, while the CH-53K now being developed will be even larger. They are fourth in the world to the Russian Mil Mi-26Halo single-rotor helicopter and the enormous, twin transverse rotoredMil V-12Homer, which can lift more than 22 tons (20 tonnes) and 44 tons (40 tonnes), respectively and the Mi-26's single-rotor predecessor Mil Mi-6, which has less payload (12 tonnes) but is bigger and has a higher MTOW at 42 tonnes.
The Marine Corps CH-53E saw its first shipboard deployment in 1983 when four CH-53E helicopters from HMH-464 deployed aboard USS Iwo Jima as part of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit (24th MAU). During this deployment Marines were sent ashore in Beirut, Lebanon as peace keepers and established perimeters at and near the Beirut International Airport. On 23 October 1983, a truck bomb detonated by terrorists destroyed the Marine barracks in Beirut, killing nearly 240 service members as they slept. CH-53E helicopters from the 24th MAU provided critical combat support during this operation.
On 26 October 2001, three CH-53Es aboard USS Peleliu and three CH-53Es aboard USS Bataan flew 550 miles (890 km) to secure the first land base in Afghanistan, Camp Rhino, with 1100 troops at its peak. This amphibious raid is the longest amphibious raid in history. The long range capability of the CH-53Es enabled Marines to establish a southern base in Afghanistan, putting the war on the ground.
Super Stallions again played a major role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. They were critical to moving supplies and ammunition to the most forward Marine units and also assisted in moving casualties back to the rear for follow on care. Marine CH-53Es and CH-46Es carried US Army Rangers and Special Operations troops in a mission to rescue captured Army Private Jessica Lynch on 1 April 2003.
Currently, about 150 CH-53E helicopters are in service with the Marines and another 28 MH-53Es are in service with the U.S Navy. The CH-53 requires 44 maintenance hours per flight hour. A flight hour costs about $20,000.
Between 1969-1990, more than 200 servicemen were killed in accidents involving the CH-53A, CH-53D and CH-53E.
The MH-53E Sea Dragon is the U.S. Navy's helicopter most prone to accidents, with 27 deaths from 1984 to 2008. During that timeframe, its rate of Class A mishaps, meaning serious damage or loss of life, was 5.96 per 100,000 flight hours, more than twice the Navy helicopter average of 2.26. An independent investigation reported that between 1984 and 2019, 132 people died in accidents on the Navy and Marine versions of this helicopter. A 2005 lawsuit alleged that since 1993 there were at least 16 in-flight fires or thermal incidents involving the No. 2 engine on Super Stallion helicopters. The suit claimed that proper changes were not made, nor were crews instructed on emergency techniques.
On 1 June 1984, a CH-53E based at Tustin was lifting a truck from the deck of a ship during an exercise when a sling attached to the truck broke. This sent a shock wave into the aircraft and caused major damage. Four crew members died in the accident.
On 19 November 1984, a CH-53E on a routine training mission at Camp Lejeune, NC, was lifting a seven-ton howitzer before it crashed. Six people were killed, and 11 injured. It experienced a loss of tail rotor function, lost control and impacted the ground. The cabin area was quickly consumed by the ensuing fire.
On 13 July 1985, a CH-53E from a Tustin squadron was on a flight in Okinawa when it struck a logging cable and exploded. Four people were killed.
On 25 August 1985, a CH-53E from New River, NC, was flying a routine supply and passenger run from Tustin to Twentynine Palms during a training operation when it caught fire and crashed in Laguna Hills. One of the three crew members was killed and the aircraft was a total loss.
On 9 May 1986, a CH-53E crashed during training exercises near Twentynine Palms, killing four Marines and injuring another. The accident was the Super Stallion's fifth crash in two-year period.
On 8 January 1987, a Marine Corps CH-53E crashed while practicing night landings for troop deployment at the Salton Sea Test Range. All five crew members were killed.
On 20 March 1989, a CH-53E crashed at Pohang, Republic of Korea. Eighteen Marines and one Sailor were killed. Another ten Marines where severely injured. The cause was determined to be a combination of pilot error, failure to follow safety standards, and mechanical problems.
On 9 May 1996, a CH-53E crashed at Sikorsky's Stratford plant, killing four employees on board. This led to the Navy grounding all CH-53Es and MH-53Es.
On 10 August 2000, a MH-53E Sea Dragon crashed in the Gulf of Mexico near Corpus Christi and resulted in the deaths of four of the six crew members. The helicopters were later returned to service with improved swash plate duplex bearings and new warning systems for the bearings.
On 20 January 2002, a CH-53E crash in Afghanistan killed two crew members and injured five others. Defense Department officials said the early-morning crash was the result of mechanical problems with the helicopter.
On 27 June 2002, a Navy MH-53E Sea Dragon of Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 4 (HC-4) "Black Stallions" crashed in a hard landing at NAS Sigonella, Sicily. No one was injured, but the aircraft was written off.
On 17 February 2006, two CH-53Es carrying a combined U.S. Marine Corps and Air Force crew collided during a training mission over the Gulf of Aden, resulting in ten deaths and two injuries.
On 16 January 2008, a Navy MH-53E on a routine training mission crashed approximately four miles south of Corpus Christi, Texas. Three crew members died in the crash and one crew member was treated at a local hospital.
On 29 June 2012, a Navy MH-53E from HM-14 made an emergency landing five miles northeast of Pohang, South Korea due to an in-flight fire. Though the pilots and aircrew were uninjured, the aircraft was heavily damaged by the fire.
On 19 July 2012 a Navy MH-53E crashed 58 miles south of Muscat, Oman during a heavy lift operation, resulting in two deaths.
On 8 January 2014, a US Navy MH-53E Sea Dragon crashed in the Atlantic 18 nautical miles east of Cape Henry, Virginia with five crew members on board. Three crew members perished in the mishap.
On 1 September 2014, a US Marine CH-53E of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit crashed in the Gulf of Aden while attempting to land on the USS Mesa Verde following training operations in Djibouti. All 17 Marines and 8 sailors on board were rescued.
On 14 January 2016, two US Marine CH-53Es on a night time training exercise off the coast of Hawaii collided with each other, resulting in the loss of both aircraft and death of their 12 crew members; each CH-53E was carrying a crew of six.
On 11 October 2017, a US Marine Corps CH-53E based at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma crashed in the Takae district of Higashi village in Okinawa. A fire broke out in one of the helicopter's engines forcing a crash-landing 300 meters from homes. After the landing the helicopter was destroyed by fire. No one was injured in the accident. This led the US military to ground CH-53E aircraft in Japan, and for the Japanese government to call for an indefinite grounding. This caused anger among some local people and displeasure from the Japanese government after flights were resumed a week later.
^Whittle, Richard. USMC CH-53E Costs Rise With Op TempoArchived 2 May 2014 at the Wayback MachineRotor & Wing, Aviation Today, January 2007. Accessed: 15 March 2012. Quote: For every hour the Corps flies a -53E, it spends 44 maintenance hours fixing it. Every hour a Super Stallion flies it costs about $20,000.