Spirit AeroSystems rolls out CH-53K heavy lift helicopter fuselage. (Picture courtesy of PRNewsFoto/Spirit AeroSystems Inc)
Spirit AeroSystems rolls out CH-53K heavy lift helicopter fuselage. (Picture courtesy of PRNewsFoto/Spirit AeroSystems Inc)

The Sikorsky CH-53K helicopter fuselage is being delivered to support assembly of the first developmental test vehicle. The fuselage assembly was joined to a supplier-provided aft transition empennage section earlier in the month.

The CH-53K helicopter is designed to provide the US Marine Corps with improved heavy lift capability and reduced operating costs. The helicopter will be used for movement of cargo and equipment, transportation of troops, and amphibious assault and operations ashore.

The cabin section consists of five composite skins, a composite floor and roof beams, aluminium framework, and a titanium transmission structure. It is approximately 30 ft long, 10 ft wide and 8.5 ft high.

The cockpit section is a mostly composite structure including the canopy framework, skins, bulkheads and floors. The cockpit assembly is approximately 8 ft long, 8.5 ft high and 10 ft wide.

"Rolling out this joined fuselage signifies a vital milestone on this programme," explains Kelley Gross, Spirit programme director. "This event demonstrates Spirit's already established expertise as a composite assembly manufacturer as well as our far-reaching capabilities in the defence market."

"The successful assembly of this fuselage is the result of a successful partnership between Spirit, Sikorsky and our NAVAIR customer," adds Joseph Santiso, Programme Manager, CH-53K Airframe Integrated Product Team.

In 2007, Sikorsky awarded a contract to Spirit AeroSystems to design, fabricate, procure and build seven units of the sections for the CH-53K helicopter in connection with Sikorsky's Systems Development and Demonstration (SDD) contract with the Navy. The seven test units are made up of one ground test vehicle, one static test article, four engineering development model flight test vehicles, and one fatigue test article.

In 2008, Sikorsky also awarded a contract to Spirit for joining the joining of the aft transition section to Spirit's combined cabin and cockpit section. This contract was also in connection with the SDD contract.

With the join of this section, Spirit will deliver a complete CH-53K helicopter fuselage to Sikorsky's Florida Assembly & Flight Operations facility in West Palm Beach, Florida, where CH-53K experimental aircraft assembly and test activities will take place.

Spirit's CH-53K SDD programme schedule is expected to run through 2012 and includes design, development and test activities, in addition to fabrication and assembly. The low-rate initial production (LRIP) phase of the programme is expected to begin with the delivery of the first LRIP aircraft in 2017.