This coming year will see the final scheduled testing for the vastly improved workhorse helicopter the Marines are relying on to move heavy equipment from ship to shore.

The Corps plans to field the CH-53K King Stallion helicopter, an advanced version of the existing CH-53E, in 2023. To do that it has got to work through some technical kinks in 2022.

In 2021 the King Stallion not only saw tests and evaluations in the desert and over the ocean but also was called upon to recover a downed Navy helicopter in the California mountains that other aviation crews couldn’t recover.

In September 2021 Marines used two King Stallions to recover a Navy MH-60S Knighthawk helicopter in the White Mountains. It was the first official fleet mission for the new helicopter, in the midst of its tests and evaluations.

The Naval Safety Center contacted the Marines at the time with a request for assistance, said Lt. Col. Luke Frank, CH-53K detachment officer.

The Knighthawk crew had made a hard landing in July at about 12,000 feet in a rugged area of the mountain range while searching for a lost hiker. The four-person crew were rescued the following day and reported no injuries.

National Guard and Navy and Marine Corps fleet squadrons had been called on but couldn’t conduct the extraction.

That’s partly due to the load. The new CH-53K can carry a 12-ton load, more than three times the capability of the current CH-53E.

The Knighthawk fell short of that by a few pounds, weighing in about 7.5 tons.

In another test in November 2021, the Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron used the King Stallion to haul a 12-ton light armored vehicle from ship to shore over the Atlantic Ocean, traversing more than 220 nautical miles round trip.

A 2020 and follow-on 2021 report from the Department of Defense Test and Evaluation office noted that the King Stallion was limited to 70 seconds in brownout conditions after testers noted engine performance degradation and highlight problems that could arise with more than 21 minutes of total “brownout” exposure.

King Stallion manufacturer Sikorsky announced that it was aware of the brownout problem and other technical issues at that time and had resolved the majority of items identified by the DOTE report.

This is an excerpt from “19 Things Marines Need To Know For 2022,” in the January print edition of Marine Corps Times.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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