US-based manufacturer Spirit AeroSystems has begun assembly of the fifth system demonstration test article (SDTA) CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopter at its facility in Wichita, Kansas.

The fifth SDTA is intended for use by the US Marine Corps (USMC). Major assembly of the unit is scheduled to begin in September.

The company will be responsible for carrying out the assembly of the entire cockpit and cabin structure with a separately attached tail section, in addition to supplying the complete fuselage to Lockheed Martin subsidiary Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company.

Spirit AeroSystems Defence programmes vice-president Tony Kondrotis said: “We are excited to start on the fifth SDTA CH-53K King Stallion and support a significant upgrade for the warfighter.

“The lightweight composite structures we are providing to Sikorsky will give the USMC a much-needed additional capability. We look forward to continuing to deliver on this programme for many years to come.”

"We are excited to start on the fifth SDTA CH-53K King Stallion and support a significant upgrade for the warfighter."

Spirit AeroSystems has so far received or produced approximately 1,500 parts to support major assembly of the next helicopter.

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The lightweight structures support the CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter's capability of performing an unrefuelled mission carrying 27,000lb for 110nm in high / hot conditions, which is three times the load-carrying capacity of the existing CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter.

Sikorsky confirmed that the programme successfully attained the Milestone C decision that facilitated low-rate initial production earlier this year.

The USMC intends to stand up eight active duty squadrons, one training squadron and one reserve squadron to support its operational requirements.

Image: The CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopters. Photo: courtesy of Spirit AeroSystems.