USMC CH-53K refuels from KC-130 while transporting F-35 between test sites

USMC CH-53K refuels from KC-130 while transporting F-35 between test sites

By Dario Leone
Apr 30 2024
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USMC CH-53K transporting F-35 between test sites

Taken on Apr. 24, 2024 the impressive photos in this post show a US Marine Corps (USMC) CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopter transporting an F-35C Lightning II airframe from the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Patuxent River, Md, to a Navy unit located at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.

A Marine aircrew from Marine Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VMX-1) at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, flew the most powerful helicopter in the Department of Defense that carried the inoperable airframe, which was without mission and propulsion systems, outer wings, or additional equipment, to the Prototype, Manufacturing and Test (PMT) Department of the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) Lakehurst for use in future emergency recovery systems testing.

“I just think this is a great opportunity for the Marine Corps, the joint force, and the world to see that the Marine Corps has a capability that no other force in the in the world has, in this case CH-53K,” said Marine Lt. Col. Adam Horne, lead pilot and officer in charge of the CH-53 Detachment, VMX-1, at Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina, in a NAVAIR new release.

USMC CH-53K refuels from KC-130 while transporting F-35 between test sites
US Marines flying a CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopter transported an F-35C Lightning II airframe from the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Patuxent River (Pax ITF) to a Navy unit located at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, April 24.

Minutes after 11 a.m., the almost 100-foot-long helicopter lifted the approximately 22,000-pound airframe from the airfield at Patuxent River, briefly headed west, and then turned southeast and headed out over the Chesapeake to begin the 305 nautical mile transport. The CH-53K is currently cleared to conduct lifts up to 36,000 lbs.

Refueling from KC-130

During the transport, the CH-53K aerial refueled with a KC-130T Hercules multi-mission medium-lift tactical tanker/transport aircraft.

“Air-to-air refueling is critical to the Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) concept and proving this capability on the CH 53K King Stallion significantly increases the combat potential for the US Marine Corps’ newest workhorse in its stable,” said Horne.

F-35C Print
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He added that VMX-1; Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Two One (HX-21), the rotary-wing and tilt rotor aircraft test squadron; Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron Once (MAWTS-1), and Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461 (HMH-461) are expanding the capabilities of the King Stallion every day.

Unique capabilities

“The CH-53K provides capability not seen anywhere else across the Marine Corps, but also for the joint force and any potential foreign military sales (FMS) customers,” said Horne. “The CH-53K is not only able to lift more and for longer distances, but it can communicate across a large spectrum and will feed information from the battlespace back to the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) commander. Its increased maintenance efficiencies will allow it to be more available and operate longer with less logistical support.”

The route included over-water and over-land portions. While flying over the Garden State, the New Jersey State Police Aviation Bureau provided crucial aerial support, as troopers from the Field Operations Section were on the ground orchestrating traffic slowdowns with precision. This synchronized effort ensures an additional layer of safety, seamlessly complementing each other to fulfill the mission.

USMC CH-53K refuels from KC-130 while transporting F-35 between test sites
US Marines flying a CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopter transported an F-35C Lightning II airframe from the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Patuxent River (Pax ITF) to a Navy unit located at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, April 24.

The CH-53K King Stallion

The CH-53K King Stallion is the most powerful helicopter ever developed by the US government. The King Stallion advances Sikorsky’s 50 years of manufacturing and operational success with its CH-53A, CH-53D/G, and CH-53E predecessors.

The CH-53K helicopter has been designed and built to the exacting standards of the USMC and will serve as its critical land and sea-based logistics connector. The new heavy lifter will allow the USMC and international militaries to move troops and equipment from ship to shore, and to higher altitude terrain, more quickly and effectively than ever before.

The King Stallion is also designed to have a smaller shipboard footprint, lower operating costs per aircraft, and less direct maintenance man hours per flight hour. The CH-53K is currently on track for first fleet deployment in FY2024, in alignment with Marine Corps schedules and requirements. The USMC’s procurement objective is 200 helicopters.

US Navy Operations Specialist explains why China is not yet able to build a stealth fighter jet comparable to the F-35
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Photo credit: Kyra Helwick


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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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