Sikorsky has awarded a contract to Spirit AeroSystems for production and delivery of aircraft structures for installation on the CH-53K heavy-lift helicopters.
Under the $60m contract, Spirit AeroSystems will supply the major structural cockpit and cabin components for additional four production-representative CH-53K helicopters, slated for the US Marine Corps (USMC).
Designated for system demonstration test articles (SDTA), the helicopters are scheduled to undergo USMC's operational evaluation in an effort to demonstrate their ability to carry 27,000lb over 110nm under high-heat ambient conditions in 2017.
The new capability is expected to nearly triple the external load carrying capacity of the existing CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter, which the aircraft is set to replace.
Spirit AeroSystems executive vice-president and general manager David Coleal said the company was looking forward to the next phase of hardware and systems testing.
"The CH-53K programme is now one step closer to providing critical heavy-lift capability to the Marines," Coleal said.
The latest contract forms part of a $435m funding added by the US Navy to Sikorsky's original $3.5bn systems development and demonstration (SDD) order awarded in April 2006 for delivery of five CH-53K developmental test aircraft and two ground static test airframes.
The company has also supplied the cockpit and cabin structures valued at $150m for the aircraft covered by the original contract.
Sikorsky CH-53K programme vice president Dr Michael Torok said: "Spirit has demonstrated strong performance and reliability as a key supplier during the system development and demonstration phase."
Contract work will begin at the company's facility in Wichita, Kansas, US, this year, while deliveries to Sikorsky's CH-53K prototype assembly line in West Palm Beach, Florida, are scheduled for 2014.
Helicopter shipments will take place by March 2017, while their initial operating capability is expected in 2019.
In additional 196 CH-53K aircraft are intended to be acquired by the navy under future production contract to support the USMC's operational requirements.
Image: A Sikorsky-built CH-53K aircraft being displayed. Photo: coutesy of Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation.