Air Transportation: CH-53K


June 27, 2007: The U.S. Marine Corps is replacing its aging CH-53E transport helicopters with a new model, the CH-53K. These will cost $27 million each, for a buy of 146 helicopters.

The Marine Corps currently operates a number of different helicopters and for years have been planning to shrink the number of types to save on operational and procurement costs. Medium and heavy lift helicopters such as the CH-46E (over 200 in use) and the CH-53 A/D (about 70) were originally to be replaced by 348 V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft. But delays in that program, and a reduction in the number of V-22s to be built, led to the CH-53K.

The CH-53E remains one of the few heavy lift helicopters that can operate in the high altitudes in Afghanistan, and they have been heavily used there. The CH-53Es average age is fifteen years, and over 3,000 flight hours. They require 44 man hours of maintenance, for each hour in the air. As a result, it costs about $20,000 for each flight hour. CH-53Es are good for about 6,000 flight hours, before metal fatigue makes them too dangerous to fly.

At the present rate of use, the Marines will begin running out of heavy-lift helicopters by 2012. Thus the decision to put the CH-53 back into production in the next five or six years, as the CH-53K. The new model will be sixteen percent heavier (at 42.3 tons) than the CH-53E and be able to carry nearly twice as much (13.5 tons). The CH-53K will be much easier to maintain, and cost about half as much, per flight hour, to operate. But the first one won't enter service for another eight years, but development is expected to be a lot more predictable than it was for the MV-22.




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