Sikorsky Aircraft has successfully completed the first flight of the US Marine Corps’ (USMC) CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopter prototype.

Known as engineering development model-1 (EDM-1), the helicopter prototype completed 30-minute flight, marking the beginning of a 2,000-hour flight test programme using four test aircraft.

Sikorsky CH-53K programme vice-president Mike Torok said: "EDM-1’s first flight signifies another major milestone for the CH-53K helicopter programme.

"Having independently tested the aircraft’s many components and subsystems, including integrated system level testing on the ground test vehicle, we are now moving on to begin full aircraft system qualification via the flight test programme."

During the test, the aircraft performed hover, sideward, rearward and forward flight control inputs while in ground effect hover up to 30ft above the ground, the company stated.

The EDM-1 will be joined by an additional three EDM aircraft to support the flight test programme.

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The USMC is planning to procure 200 helicopters at a cost of approximately $25.5bn.

"We have experienced significant learning at the system and sub-system levels, which continues to build our confidence in the capabilities of the 53K.

Unveiled in May 2014, the helicopter is scheduled to replace the ageing fleet of CH-53E Super Stallions, which was extensively used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

USMC Heavy-Lift Helicopters programme manager colonel Hank Vanderborght said: "We have experienced significant learning at the system and sub-system levels, which continues to build our confidence in the capabilities of the 53K.

"With first flight behind us, we look forward to execution of the development and operational testing and the deployment of this incredible heavy-lift capability to our warfighters."

The new helicopters will feature enhanced payload, range, and hot-high capabilities. They are expected to deliver reliable and cost-effective, low-maintenance and survivable solutions in all conditions.

Image: The USMC CH-53K King Stallion prototype completed a 30-minute flight test. Photo: courtesy of Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation.