Air Transportation: The Immortal CH-53


June 27, 2009: First Israel, and now Germany are upgrading their CH-53 heavy transport helicopters. Germany will spend several million dollars refurbishing and upgrading each of its 82 CH-53s. Most will have their airframes refurbished to increase service life from 6,000 to 10,000 flight hours. In addition, 26 of the German CH-53s will be modified to use sensors that enable it to find things on the ground. Similar Israeli refurbs to their 38 CH-53s, will enable them to last until 2025, and be much better protected from small missiles.

The 20 ton CH-53 entered service in the mid-1960s, and the first one entered Israeli service in 1968. Germany began receiving its CH-53s in the early 1970s. The CH-53 has a max speed of 290 kilometers an hour, and can stay in the air for over three hours per sortie. It can carry 35 passengers, or 3.5 tons of cargo (including artillery slung beneath). Israel considered replacing the CH-53s with the CV-22, but the longer range, and higher speed, of the tilt-rotor aircraft was not a plus. The CH-53 could still haul more people and cargo.

The current refurb includes a nearly complete upgrade or replacement of all the electronics. This will make the helicopter more reliable, cheaper to maintain and easier to fly. With rebuilding and careful maintenance, these helicopters can be kept in the air indefinitely. While Israel will continue to use their CH-53s mostly inside Israel, Germany expects to be using theirs for peacekeeping and humanitarian missions overseas.



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