Sikorsky announced the delivery to the US Marine Corps of the third Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) CH-53K helicopter ahead of contract schedule. This CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter joined six in operation at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River, Jacksonville, North Carolina. The -53K is the only sea-based, long-range, heavy-lift helicopter in production and will provide the sea service with three times the lift capability of its predecessor.

The CH-53K has also gained the attention of non-US defense forces. Earlier this year Sikorsky secured a contract to build 12 CH-53K heavy lift helicopters for Israel under a US Navy Foreign Military Sales agreement. The signed letter of offer and acceptance between the US Government and Israel stated first deliveries of the baseline aircraft are planned for 2025.

Of interest to the simulation and training community are the Containerized Flight Training Devices (CFTD) supporting the Marine Corps CH-53K training system. Sikorsky parent company Lockheed Martin has announced the award of a contract from the US Navy to provide an additional CFTD for delivery to MCAS New River with options for three more – with the three latter devices being eyed for MCAS Miramar, California. This follows the success of the first training device delivered in 2020 to MCAS New River. 

The CFTD is allowing USMC pilots at this early point of the -53K’s acquisition program to smoothly transition from the training device to the actual CH-53K’s fly-by-wire cockpit. Mission scenarios trained during Initial Operational Test & Evaluation reflect the vexing and challenging tasks the sea service has completed during two decades of rigorous combat in the mountains, valleys and urban areas of Afghanistan and Iraq, and missions expected to be completed in support of the service’s Force Design 2030 strategy. A short-list of the many on-board tasks enabled by the CFTD include: day and night air-to-air refueling; air-to-air refueling with 27,000lb (12,247kg) external load; sea trials with over 350 landings; and operation in degraded visual environments.

Sean Cattanach, Sikorsky’s CH-53K Training Portfolio Manager, told MS&T, “In partnership with our supplier Veraxx, Lockheed Martin provides a value-added training solution to the fleet permitting the customer to meet its operational commitment,” and emphasized, “The CFTD is a full-mission flight simulator and the only flight simulator for the CH-53K.”

Of additional interest is the US Navy customer’s commitment to maintain concurrency between the CH-53K fleet and the aircrew training system. A May 2020 Naval Air Systems Command document pointed out, “The simulation software continuously updates, so as the program team makes necessary modifications to the CH-53K into the future, the CFTD will also change.” In an effort to keep that commitment, Lockheed Martin awarded Veraxx Engineering a contract in April 2021 for the initial upgrade of CFTD number 1. 

USMC maintenance personnel are learning to maintain and sustain the -53K by way of the Helicopter Emulation Maintenance Trainer and Composite Maintenance Trainer.  

Cattanach was asked about inserting virtual reality, artificial intelligence and other capabilities into the CH-53K training system. He replied, “Lockheed Martin is determining how we can leverage our VR/XR expertise in future training systems for the CH-53K.”