Procurement, production and progress
Heavy lift programmes such as Sikorsky’s CH-53K and Bell-Boeing’s multi-year V-22 project with the US DoD are ticking along, and the companies are optimistic that as progress continues, international interest in the platforms will grow.
As the CH-53K King Stallion enters production, company officials are confident that the USMC Heavy Lift Replacement Program is on track. With initial operating capability scheduled to be achieved by the end of 2019, the aircraft has now exceeded 450 test flight hours.
At the critical design review stage of the programme, the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation FY2016 annual report noted that high temperature issues within the number two engine bay had caused delays. In February, Sikorsky confirmed that measures had been put in place to overcome overheating.
‘[Regarding] the heat on the engine we have already taken two models that have shown that heat dissipating. We’ve got two other designs that are looking at improving it even more,’ Sikorsky’s president Dan Schultz told me, when asked if this issue had any further ramifications for testing points.
‘Right now, we’re back in flight and we are not seeing [the engines] as hot as they were in the beginning. All aircraft that have the third engine have a heat area back there and we’ve been working on that with NAVAIR. So, that is not one of our risk areas.’
Discussions with the German government are currently focused on pricing of a potential order for 41 CH-53K helicopters to replace the incumbent CH-53G variant. Schultz argued that when Germany makes its decision, the company will be ready, with the King Stallion expected to be in full production by that point.
One of the key developments of the K-model is the size of the back end of the aircraft, which is 30cm wider than its predecessor, the Super Stallion, at the request of the USMC. ‘When you think of the back end of a 53K, forget about all the best flight avionics or best performance – all those kinds of things – the back end is 12in wider… that’s a big difference to the guys on the ground,’ Shultz said.
Pitching itself further as an international military supplier, Bell Helicopter has highlighted imminent deliveries of its offerings across Asia. The company will see the first V-22 deliveries to Japan in September/October this year, while the AH-1Z Viper will start to be delivered to Pakistan in earnest soon.
Rich Harris, VP of international military sales at Bell, explained to journalists at the Paris Air Show that it was the first FMS of the AH-1 attack helicopter in 20 years. The Pakistan Army will take receipt of the first three aircraft this year. While little timeline detail was provided, Harris did confirm that these were currently being finished on the assembly line in Amarillo, Texas.
Placed in 2015, the order for 12 Vipers will see the remaining nine delivered in 2018. At this stage, while it has not been decided whether delivery will be in batches of three or more, the final units will be received by Pakistan 18 months from now, Harris confirmed at the show in June.
The V-22 programme has so far seen 295 of 360 aircraft delivered to the USMC. In total, 347 V-22s have been delivered, including 52 in the USAF CV configuration. The aircraft has surpassed more than 350,000 flight hours.
In a plan announced in mid-2015 the USAF will deploy three CV-22 Ospreys to Japan in the second half of this year, with seven more scheduled to arrive by 2021.
With the company looking to accelerate efforts to promote its military portfolio outside of the US the prospect of a NATO sharing concept could stretch the reach of the OEM’s military aircraft. Harris explained that at this stage Bell is excited about this opportunity with a prospective joint asset such as the V-22.
For more on military helicopter procurement, platform production and progress with current programmes see the July-August edition of DH.