Exelis has been awarded a contract for the production of major structural airframe components for four prototype CH-53K heavy lift helicopters designed for the US Marine Corps (USMC).
Awarded by Sikorsky, the $34m contract requires the company to develop and assemble the composite sponsons, tail rotor pylon and horizontal stabiliser for the four production-representative CH-53K heavy lift helicopters designated as System Demonstration Test Articles (SDTA).
The composite materials are expected to increase the performance and capability of the aircraft by reducing weight and fuel consumption, enhancing its payload capacity and flight range.
Exelis Aerostructures vice president and general manager Mike Blair said, "The use of composite technology on the CH-53K helicopter ensures that the weight, durability and affordability objectives of the program are met."
The USMC will use the four aircraft for operational evaluation beginning in 2017.
During the operational evaluation, the Marine Corps will validate the SDTA aircraft's ability to carry 27,000lbs over a mission radius of 110 nautical miles under high hot ambient conditions.
The first prototype CH-53K aircraft is scheduled to undergo its first flight in late 2014 while the USMC is expected to launch the first CH-53K heavy lift helicopter squadron in 2019.
Designed to replace the Marine Corps' CH-53E helicopter, the CH-53K Super Stallion heavy-lift helicopter can be deployed from amphibious assault ships for the transportation of personnel and equipment.
Featuring improved payload, range, and hot-high capabilities, the helicopter can also carry external cargo loads while operating from austere and remote forward operating bases.
Work under the contract will be performed at the Exelis composite design and manufacturing centre in Salt Lake City, Utah, US.
Image: The CH-53K aircraft being delivered for evaluation. Photo courtesy of Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation.