CH 53K helicopter tests its power at U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground

The CH-53 has been a potent member of the Marine Corps aviation community’s fleet for over 40 years, but the newest version takes the platform to a whole new level.

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CH 53K tests its power at U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground 925 001 The CH-53 helicopter has been a potent member of the U.S. Marine Corps aviation community’s fleet for over 40 years, but the newest version takes the platform to a whole new level. (Picture source: Dvidshub)

Equipped with three 7,500 horsepower engines and built to carry a nearly 30,000 pound external load for over 100 miles, the CH 53K King Stallion boasts a 20% increase in heavy lift capability over its predecessors.

The most impressive new feature, though, is fly-by-wire technology that computerizes flight controls and represents a major advancement over hydraulic ones. In addition to making the craft lighter, the new controls assist pilots, particularly in degraded visual environments.

The CH-53K has undergone extensive developmental testing that utilized the degraded visual environment (DVE) test course at U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) for more than two years, most recently to verify software updates in the flight control software that have been made as a result of this testing.

YPG’s DVE course is highly coveted by helicopter testers seeking to protect flight crews from the potentially catastrophic consequences of brownouts. Caused by rapidly blowing sand and dirt thrown into a vortex by the rotor blades of a helicopter, a brownout’s swirling dust gives pilots the illusion they are moving even if they are hovering stationary. Hazardous in any situation, it is particularly risky when landing in a combat zone with multiple other aircraft, or in a situation where support personnel are on the ground below. The risk is compounded when the aircraft is hauling an extremely heavy cargo load beneath it.

The extremely fine ‘moon dust’ on YPG’s DVE course, tilled for maximum diffusion when a helicopter hovers overhead, was more than adequately harsh for the testers’ purposes—YPG personnel prepared the site in such a way to ensure a variety of DVE conditions, disking the dusty ground at depths of two and eight inches while leaving other areas of the site completely untilled.

The King Stallion’s primary mission is Assault Support, and testers put it through its paces at the DVE in extremely realistic scenarios that included support from Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 based at Marine Corps Air Station-Yuma. The Marines attached and unhooked massive blocks of standardized weights ranging between six and 13.5 tons as the CH-53K traversed the DVE course, day and night.

Aircraft refueling at YPG typically is only done ‘cold,’ or with the aircraft’s engines off and powered down, as a safety measure. To maintain maximum realism for test purposes and increase the efficiency of the test, however, a waiver was granted to allow for ‘hot’ refueling of the aircraft as it was put through its paces. MWSS 371 established a Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP) on an improved airstrip close to the DVE site.

MWSS 371 successfully treated the ground beneath the FARP with dust abatement material: As the CH-53K is a developmental aircraft, they wanted to minimize the risk of foreign objects and debris being vertically propelled into the aircraft and damaging it. The weight blocks used in the testing were also staged here.

Remarkably, the large scale test that began its planning phase in early 2020 proceeded without delay despite the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic a mere weeks after formal coordination began.