The US Marine Corps’ (USMC) heavy lift helicopter CH-53K King Stallion has successfully completed its initial operational testing and evaluation (IOT&E) test vignettes.

Lockheed Martin subsidiary Sikorsky delivered four system demonstration test article CH-53K helicopters to the USMC’s Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron One (VMX-1), in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

The VMX-1 conducted the evaluation that completed earlier in March this year.

During the evaluation test, the helicopter demonstrated its advanced capabilities over a seven-month period.

The helicopter completed several programme markers including air-to-air refuelling (AAR) with an external load of 27,000lb and day and night AAR.

It also performed sea trials with over 350 landings and delivery of first six production aircraft.

Sikorsky CH-53K programme director Bill Falk said: “The performance of these intelligent aircraft during Marine-operated flight tests displays the CH‑53K’s operational effectiveness and ensures it will support marines at the forefront of combat capability and heavy lift for decades to come.

“The CH‑53K delivers greater lift and endurance capabilities over the legacy aircraft.

“It’s fly-by-wire system reduces pilot workload and enhances the ability to refuel in mid-air, which is critical to expanding the marine corps operational flexibility across all US and allied military services, making the CH-53K a powerful asset for the marines evolving missions.”

The helicopter is expected to achieve initial operational capability (IOC) later this year and full-rate production decision next year.

The helicopter will achieve IOC after the first squadron receives four CH-53K helicopters along with support equipment, technical publications and trained and certified personnel.

Currently, six aircraft are under different build stages in Stratford, Connecticut. Delivery of three helicopters is expected this year.

Additionally, ten aircraft that are part of USMC programme of record for 200 aircraft, are under contract for long lead material.

Besides, 46 aircraft including four heavy lift helicopters are under contract for the Government of Israel as part of US Navy Foreign Military Sales (FMS) agreement.

The CH-53K successfully completed an air-to-air refuelling test with the help of a USMC KC-130J Super Hercules aerial refuelling tanker.