|CH-53 Sea Stallion|
|A CH-53D Sea Stallion with HMH-362, lands on FOB Edinburgh, Helmand Province, Afghanistan|
|Role||Heavy-lift cargo helicopter|
|National origin||United States|
|First flight||YCH-53: 14 October 1964|
|Primary users||United States Marine Corps (historical)|
German Air Force
Israeli Air Force
Mexican Air Force (historical)
|Variants||HH-53 "Super Jolly Green Giant"/MH-53 Pave Low|
|Developed into||Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion|
The CH-53 Sea Stallion (Sikorsky S-65) is a family of heavy-lift transport helicopters designed and built by Sikorsky Aircraft. Originally developed for use by the United States Marine Corps, it is currently in service with Germany, Iran, and Israel. The United States Air Force operated the HH-53 "Super Jolly Green Giant" during the late– and post–Vietnam-War era, updating most of them as the MH-53 Pave Low.
The dimensionally-similar CH-53E Super Stallion is a heavier-lifting, improved version designated S-80E by Sikorsky. Its third engine makes it more powerful than the Sea Stallion, which it has replaced in the heavy-lift mission.
In 1960, the United States Marine Corps began to seek a replacement for their HR2S piston-powered helicopters. On 27 January 1961, the Marine Corps began working with the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force on the "Tri-Service VTOL transport", which would eventually emerge as the Vought-Hiller-Ryan XC-142A tiltwing. The design became more elaborate and the program stretched out, causing the Marines to drop out when they decided they would not receive a working machine in a satisfactory timeframe. In particular, there were concerns that the high levels of downwash produced by the XC-142A would render shipborne operations impractical. In the end, the XC-142A, although a very innovative and capable machine, never entered production.
In March 1962, the United States Navy's Bureau of Naval Weapons, acting on behalf of the Marines, issued a request for a "Heavy Helicopter Experimental / HH(X)". The specifications dictated a load capability of 8,000 pounds (3,600 kg) with an operational radius of 100 nautical miles (190 km; 120 mi) at a speed of 150 knots (280 km/h; 170 mph). It was also specified to possess a higher top speed and greater lifting capacity than existing helicopters while also having a lower empty weight than preceding designs as well. The HH(X) was to be used in the assault transport, aircraft recovery, personnel transport, and medical evacuation roles. In the assault transport role, it was to be mostly used to haul heavy equipment instead of troops.
In response, Boeing Vertol offered a modified version of the CH-47 Chinook; Kaman Aircraft offered a development of the British Fairey Rotodyne compound helicopter; and Sikorsky offered what amounted to a scaled-up version of the S-61R, with twin General Electric T64 turboshaft engines and the dynamic system of the S-64/CH-54, to be designated the S-65. Kaman's proposal quickly died when the British government dropped its backing of the Rotodyne program. Competition between Boeing Vertol and Sikorsky was intense, with the Chinook having an advantage because it was being acquired by the United States Army. During July 1962, it was announced that Sikorsky's bid had been selected as the winner on account of various considerations, including cost, technical factors, and production capability. However, a contract was not immediately forthcoming due to budgetary limitations.
The Marines had originally sought to procure four prototypes. However, in light of funding shortfalls, Sikorsky, determined to keep the deal, reduced their estimate for the programme's development costs by proposing that development could be performed with only two prototypes. Military officials favourably received the company's proposed reduction; in September 1962, Sikorsky was awarded a $9,965,635 contract for the production of a pair of YCH-53A prototypes, as well as a mockup and a ground-test airframe.
The development program did not go entirely smoothly, due to a shortage of engineering resources plus various failures of subcontractors and the government, but these problems were gradually overcome. There was also pressure against the programme from U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, who promoted the concept of "commonality" between the armed services by adopting the Chinook instead. However, the Marines managed to convince McNamara's staff that the Chinook could not meet their requirements without numerous expensive changes.
The first YCH-53A performed its initial flight at the Sikorsky plant in Stratford, Connecticut, on 14 October 1964, about four months behind schedule. During the previous month, the Marines had already placed an initial production contract for 16 helicopters. Flight trials went more smoothly than expected, helping make up for the time lost in development; on 19 November 1964, the type was formally introduced to the general public. Around this time, it received the military designation and name CH-53A Sea Stallion. On 12 September 1966, the first deliveries of the CH-53 to an operational unit occurred.
The CH-53A arrived in Vietnam in January 1967 and proved useful, eventually recovering even more downed aircraft than the CH-54. A total of 141 CH-53As were built, including the two prototypes. The U.S. Navy acquired 15 CH-53As from the USMC in 1971 for airborne mine countermeasures (AMCM) activities. The helicopters had more powerful T64-GE-413 turboshafts installed and received the designation RH-53A.
The United States Air Force ordered the HH-53B in September 1966 and it first flew on 15 March 1967. It added a refueling probe, drop fuel tanks and a rescue hoist; it also featured upgraded T64-GE-3 engines. The Air Force used the HH-53B for combat search and rescue (CSAR). HH-53C was an improved CSAR variant with a smaller 450 US gallons (1,700 L) fuel tank in exchange for more armor and better communication systems. The CH-53C was similar except it lacked a refueling probe. It was used by the USAF for more general transport work.
Heavy lifting in tropical climates demanded more power, so the Marines decided to acquire an improved variant, the CH-53D, with uprated engines, originally the T64-GE-412 then later the T64-GE-413. The CH-53D also included an uprated transmission to go with the more powerful engines, and a revised interior to permit a load of 55 troops.
The initial flight of the CH-53D was on 27 January 1969. The CH-53D served alongside the CH-53A through the rest of the Vietnam War. A VIP transport version designated VH-53D with plush accommodations was used by the Marines for the US presidential flights. The US Navy also acquired CH-53D-based helicopters for minesweeping. These were designated RH-53D and included mine sweeping gear such as a pair of 0.50 BMG (12.7 mm) Browning machine guns for detonating mines. The Navy received 30 RH-53Ds beginning in 1973. After the RH-53Ds were in service, the RH-53As were handed back to the Marines and restored to CH-53A configuration.
During the 1980s, Israeli Air Force's CH-53 Yas'ur fleet was upgraded by Israel Aircraft Industries and Elbit Systems. The project – which ended only in 1997 – improved the CH-53 avionics, robustness and extended its life span by at least two decades.
In 1989, some of the CH-53As being retired by the Marines were passed on to the U.S. Air Force for training, with these helicopters redesignated TH-53As. The TH-53As were stripped of most operational equipment and painted in USAF camouflage colors.
The Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion is a heavy lift military transport helicopter. The CH-53A carries a crew of four; pilot, copilot, crew chief, and an aerial observer. It can carry various payloads, including up to 38 fully-equipped troops, 24 litters with medical attendants, an internal cargo load of 8,000 pounds (3,600 kg), or an external load of 13,000 pounds (5,900 kg) on the single-point sling hook. Access to the main cabin is via the large passenger door on the right side of the fuselage behind the cockpit, as well as by a power-operated loading ramp to the rear. This loading ramp was capable of facilitating drive-on loading operations, enabling quicker cargo movements. The CH-53A was designed to have a useful payload capacity, in terms of weight, of almost half of the rotorcraft's empty weight.
It is provisioned with mechanical flight controls, which are backed by three independent hydraulic systems. As noted by Sikorsky engineer Edward S Carter Junior, the rotorcraft could be equipped to facilitate all-weather operations. It shares a somewhat similar fuselage design, albeit on a substantially larger scale, with the Sikorsky S-61R series. While the Sea Stallion's fuselage is watertight, the helicopter is not intended for amphibious use and its ability to land on water is meant to only be used in emergency situations. To save space, which is normally at a premium on board most naval vessels, both the tail boom and the rotors can be folded while the helicopter is stowed; to reduce the workload involved in this process, an automated folding system was developed by Sikorsky. Both the crew and vital systems are protected by armouring across key areas. All of the fuel was housed within sponsons on either side of the fuselage. The CH-53A was typically equipped with a pair of 7.62×51mm NATO M60 machine guns that point out to each side of the fuselage.
The CH-53A features a fully-articulated six-bladed main rotor and four-bladed tail rotor. According to Carter, the relatively high speed requirement stipulated by the USMC was the primary factor shaping the dynamic design. While the Sea Stallion's dynamic systems were largely derived from those used on the earlier Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane, substantial reengineering were also involved due to the vastly different operating requirements. Extensive use of titanium was made across its dynamic components, particularly for elements that may have been susceptible to degradation over time due to metal fatigue. Initially, the CH-53 was powered by a pair of General Electric T64-6 turboshaft engines, each of which provided up to 2,850 shaft horsepower (2,130 kW). These engine were located on the upper fuselage. Later engines included the T64-1, capable of generating up to 3,080 shp (2,300 kW), and the T64-16, which was rated for up to 3,485 shp (2,599 kW). The HH-53B model featured T64-3 engines, which produced up to 3,080 shp (2,300 kW).
The improved CH-53D features uprated engines, initially using the T64-GE-412 that could provide up to 3,695 shp (2,755 kW), then the T64-413 with its further elevated output of 3,925 shp (2,927 kW); these more powerful engines necessitated the use of an uprated transmission. Interior changes included additional seats, which allowed for up to 55 troops to be carried at a time. The CH-53D is generally armed with twin .50 BMG (12.7 mm) M2/XM218 machine guns. During the type's later years of service, it has become commonplace for CH-53Ds to have been retrofitted with various defensive countermeasures; such apparatus has often included an AN/ALE-39 chaff dispenser and an AN/ALQ-157 infrared countermeasure.
Later production CH-53Ds featured a Blade Inspection Method (BIM) scheme to detect cracks in its metal rotors. BIM involved pressurizing the interior of the rotor blades with nitrogen. If a crack is present pressure is lost and a red indicator on the rotor blade tip was tripped. Later, the BIM system was connected to a cockpit display. BIM reduced the need to routinely swap rotor blades.
The CH-53/HH-53 has seen considerable use in warzones and served in various conflict during its service. It was first used in the Vietnam War, often recovering downed aircraft and evacuating personnel. The CH-53D served alongside the CH-53A through the latter portion of the US's presence in Vietnam; both types played a critical role at the end of the conflict, performing evacuations of personnel during Operation Frequent Wind.
U.S. Air Force HH-53 Super Jolly Green Giants were the primary search-and-rescue helicopter in Southeast Asia between 1967 and 1975, inserted the Operation Ivory Coast rescue team into the North Vietnamese prison camp at Son Tay in 1970, and carried the Marines and Air Force Security Forces who attempted to rescue the crew of SS Mayagüez. Marine-flown Navy Sea Stallions were the rotary-wing element of Operation Eagle Claw, the attempted rescue of American hostages in Iran in 1980 that ended in disaster and embarrassment at "Desert One". Marine CH-53s were used in Grenada during Operation Urgent Fury.
The CH-53 was operated by the Air Force, United States Marine Corps and U.S. Navy in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. It is also operated by all three services in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. It was in the Afghan theatre than the final operational missions of the CH-53D fleet were performed during February 2012.
On 17 September 2007, VMM-263 of the Marine Corps was deployed with ten MV-22B Ospreys, a tiltrotor aircraft. The V-22 has been the primary replacement for the Marine Corps fleets of CH-53Ds and CH-46E Sea Knights, but not the more powerful CH-53Es; instead, the in-development CH-53K is planned to supplant the Navy and Marine Corps' CH-53E fleet.
During September 2011, HMH-463 replaced its CH-53Ds with CH-53Es. HMH-363 and HMH-362 are to operate D-models until the squadrons are deactivated. Both units are to be reactivated as MV-22 and CH-53K squadrons respectively. Several CH-53D helicopters will be retained for the 3rd Marine Regiment for training. HMH-362 retired the last CH-53Ds after its combat deployment in August 2012 and decommissioned in November 2012.
In August 1968, an Israeli Air Force (IAF) delegation visited Sikorsky's Connecticut plant while seeking information to select the service's next assault helicopter. The delegation was looking for a helicopter with augmented payload carry capacity, highly maneuverable and robust, that could survive direct hits from different caliber projectiles. They examined Boeing's CH-47 Chinook and Sikorsky's CH-53, it was recognised that the latter was both larger and stronger than any of the IAF's other helicopters, and thus represented a major advancement in terms of capability. Based upon experience gained from the intense combat of the then-recently fought Six-Day War, the delegation opted to favour the CH-53.
On 2 October 1969, the first S-65C-3 (CH-53D) helicopters were delivered to Israel of an initial order of seven. At the time, the country was engaged in the War of Attrition, and thus the type was quickly dispatched into combat. Receiving the Hebrew name Yas'ur (Petrel), a further 35 helicopter were delivered to fulfil subsequent orders. On 6 August 1970, the first Yas'ur squadron was established. For several decades, the type has served as the primary cargo helicopters of the IAF, being routinely used to carry both troops and heavy equipment.
In 1969, during the War of Attrition, IAF CH-53s landed in Egypt and conveyed a captured Soviet advanced radar system back to Israel for examination by Israeli scientists and engineers (see Operation Rooster 53). The Yas'ur was also used in various other capacities during the conflict, including the retrieval of a navigator from a downed IAF F-4 Phantom II under sustained enemy fire on 30 June 1970.
During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Yas'ur routinely moved artillery batteries and for the insertion of IDF units around the fronts. The type was also used to evacuate hundreds of wounded soldiers and rescued pilots from behind enemy lines in both Egypt and Syria. In one engagement, a single Yas'ur was attacked by multiple aircraft, including a pair of MiG-21s; while sustaining damage, it was still able to return to base. Since 1973, Yas'urs have also been used by the IDF to land and extract Sayeret commandos on raids and patrols deep behind enemy lines in Lebanon Syria and the greater Middle East.
During the 1980s, Israel Aircraft Industries, along with military high-tech firm Elbit Systems, commenced a major upgrade programme for the IAF Yas'ur fleet. The project, which was completed in 1997, improved the CH-53's avionics and increased its robustness, as well as extending the fleet's operating life by at least two decades.
In 1989, several Yas'urs were used to perform firefighting operations on and around Mount Carmel. They performed dozens of low flyovers into the smoke and flames, dumped 700 tons of water on the fire, and doused it. On 8 November 1992, a pair of CH-53s performed one of the IAF's longest-distance sea rescue operations to retrieve passenger from the distressed yacht Fantasy 2 off the coast of Sudan.
During the 2006 Lebanon War, Hezbollah shot down an Israeli CH-53 Yas'ur with an anti-tank missile, killing five air crew members. This was reportedly the only combat loss of an Israeli CH-53 during this conflict.
On 16 August 2012, the IAF temporarily grounded its CH-53 fleet following one having experienced in-flight difficulties that led to an emergency landing; initial reports state the issue was related to the rotor blades. The fleet was again grounded for three weeks after a CH-53 was destroyed by a fire during a training exercise; the IAF subsequently attributed this loss to a defective component and blamed Lockheed Martin for failing to communicate the issue.
During 2015, it was announced that Israel planned to withdraw the last of its Yasurs around 2025. Replacement options studied included the CH-53K and the CH-47F Chinook, with a prospective order for approximately 20 helicopters being placed for the preferred option. During February 2021, the Israeli Ministry of Defense announced the selection of the CH-53K to replace the Yasur fleet.
During the 1970s, an initial fleet of six RH-53D Sea Stallions was delivered to the Imperial Iranian Navy (IIN). Following the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the Sea Stallions continued in service with the renamed Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN). These were supplemented by five U.S. Navy examples that were abandoned during Operation Eagle Claw in 1980. Despite US sanctions that have blocked the nation from acquiring spares and support from overseas, Iran has reportedly been able to keep at least a portion of their Sea Stallions in an operational condition; this effort has been aided by illegal exports of controlled parts to Iran by US citizens.
In 1966, the German military evaluated both the CH-53 and CH-47 Chinook as a replacement for the H-21 and H-34G helicopters with an initial requirement for 133. The purchase of the CH-53 was approved in June 1968 but due to budget constraints only 110 were ordered. Following the delivery in 1969 of two pre-production helicopters from Sikorsky the production aircraft were licence built by VFW-Fokker at Speyer in Germany. The first German-built CH-53G Mittlerer Transporthubschrauber helicopter flew from Speyer on 11 October 1971 and was delivered to the Erprobungsstelle der Bundeswehr 61 flight test center at Manching on 1 December 1971.
The German Army Aviation Corps received 110 type CH-53Gs, derivatives of the CH-53D, between 1971 and 1975. 108 helicopters were built in Germany by VFW-Fokker. The first flight by a German CH-53G was made in 1971, followed in March 1973 by the delivery of the first machines to Heeresfliegerregiment (HFlgRgt, Army Aviation Corps Regiment) 35 in Mendig, and shortly afterwards to the newly formed Army Aviation Corps Regiment 15 based at Rheine and Army Aviation Corps Regiment 25 based at Laupheim.
In order to meet ever more demanding specifications, over time the CH-53G received modifications from 1990 designed to improve its service life and operational capabilities. These involved three major upgrades: new missile warning and self-protection systems; provision for two external fuel tanks allowing range to be increased to 1,100 mi (1,800 km) when carrying 36 armed soldiers or a 12,100 lb (5,500 kg) payload; and addition of a night vision goggles-compatible cockpit for night low-level flying capabilities. All CH-53Gs were upgraded by Eurocopter Germany by early 2001, resulting in updated GS/GE/GA variants. As a result of foreign military operations 20 CH-53G helicopters were converted to perform Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) missions. Version CH-53GS is equipped with modernized IFR equipment, additional exterior fuel tanks, low-flight night vision cockpit and NVG, partial ballistic protection, engine dust collectors, missile counter measure and self-defence armament. Additionally the original engines were replaced by the more powerful T64-100 engines.
German Army Aviation Corps units have carried out a wide range of international missions under the auspices of NATO and the UN, providing transport for members of UNSCOM in Iraq, serving in Kosovo with KFOR, with IFOR in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and more recently with ISAF in Afghanistan. On 1 January 2013, all Army Aviation Corps CH-53Gs were transferred to the German Air Force and incorporated into Helicopter Wing 64.
During the 2010s, German was reportedly considering options for replacing its aging CH-53G fleet, with candidates including the Chinook and the CH-53K model. On 29 September 2020, the German Ministry of Defense cancelled the "Schwerer Transporthubschrauber" (STH) heavy-lifting helicopter program for 45 to 60 helicopters after the initiative was judged to be too expensive and stated that its CH-53Gs fleet would be replaced following a period of reexamination.
During 1970, a pair of S-65C-2 or S-65Ö (equivalent to the CH-53D standard, albeit without the aerial refuelling probe) helicopters were delivered to Austria. Intended primarily to perform airborne rescue operations in the Alps, they were assigned to 1st Helicopter Wing of the Austrian Air Force, making the service the second foreign operator of the CH-53. Their equipment included same rescue hoist as the HH-53 and fittings for auxiliary fuel tanks and accommodation for 38 passengers. Although they performed well in high altitude operations, the type's relatively high operating costs were a major contributing factor in Austria's decision to sell both rotorcraft to Israel in 1981.
During 2003, the Fuerza Aérea Mexicana (FAM) acquired four surplus CH-53D Sea Stallions from Israel at a combined cost of $25 million. Prior to their delivery in 2005, all helicopters were upgraded to the Yasur 2000 standard. Due to restricted budgets, only two were actually operated by 104th Air Squadron, while the other pair served as a source of spare parts. Their initial missions were troop transport and commando insertion, but their principal mission was subsequently changed to performing rescue and disaster relief operations, being relocated to BAM 8 at Yucatán. By 2013, all examples had been permanently withdrawn from service.
During 2007, the first commercially owned CH-53D was being converted by the Californian company Heavy Lift Helicopters into an firefighting configuration, which was referred to by the firm as the Fire Stallion Having acquired a batch of six ex-military CH-53Ds, the company planned to make them available for hire by other operators; in addition to fire-fighting, construction work and general transport duties were envisioned for the fleet. While the fleet reportedly flew for a handful of years, they entered storage after only a short period of use due to component shortages.
Due to the aircraft's large size and troop capacity, aerial accidents involving CH-53 helicopters have been some of the deadliest helicopter accidents.
Data from Deagel.com, U.S. Navy history, International Directory, US Navy Fact File
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era
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However, the IAF lost only one aircraft in combat and four in accidents. Three AH-64 Apaches were lost. One, a AH-64 Longbow that was lost as a result of a technical problem, and two AH-64 were lost in a midair collision caused by pilot error. An F-16 crashed during takeoff after a tire failure. The only combat loss was a CH-53 transport helicopter that have just unloaded troops and was struck during take off by a Chinese QW-1 light SAM
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