WASHINGTON — The CH-53K King Stallion program completed its first cross-country flight from Sikorsky's West Palm Beach, Florida, facility to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, Lockheed Martin announced Wednesday.
The CH-53K heavy lift helicopter flew the 810 miles from Florida to Maryland in six hours, stopping twice to refuel. The four engineering development model helicopters have completed more than 450 flight hours in testing at Sikorky's Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach.
The Marine Corps plans to buy 200 CH-53K, manufactured by Lockheed Martin subsidiary Sikorsky, to replace the CH-53E Super Stallion and are predicted to be able to lift three times as much with a 12-inch-wider cabin, according to Sikorsky. The first six of the 200 are under contract and scheduled to start delivery next year, Lockheed Martin said.
The acquisition program is under heavy scrutiny from Congress as its total cost has increased from $26.1 billion to $27.7 billion as of April, according to Defense News.
This increase in causing Marine Corps officials to struggle to put the program in context when the Air Force’s largest aircraft program, the F-35, is predicted to cost less.
In April, Defense News reported that Col. Hank Vanderborght, program manager for U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy heavy lift helicopters, said the program saw a 21 percent increase since 2006’s baseline. If the program sees nine more percent of an increase, it will be subject to a re-baseline decision from the DoD.
Vanderborght said he is working with Sikorsky on reducing the cost by $1.5 billion in what he called a "war on cost."