Development of the Sikorsky CH-53K is proceeding so well that the US Navy programme manager says he expects the new heavy-lift helicopter to become operational ahead of schedule.

"We're going after [2018] like it's cool," says US Marine Corps Col Robert Pridgen, the Naval Air Systems Command programme manager for the CH-53K. "[2019] is when the Marine Corps says, 'I need it'. We're trying to figure out how we can get it here sooner and there are some opportunities for us to do that."

Pridgen, who was speaking to reporters at the Navy League Sea-Air-Space Exposition, says that the aircraft is meeting or exceeding all of its key performance parameters at present. Already, four test aircraft are being built and Pridgen says he expects to award Sikorsky a contract to build a further four operational test aircraft by May.

He adds that he does not expect budget cuts and the current fiscal turmoil in the US government to delay or derail the programme.

If all goes as planned, Pridgen says he expects the first flight of the CH-53K to be in late 2014. Low rate initial production is expected to start in 2015, with two more lots to follow in 2016 and 2017. Full rate production should start around 2019 or 2022, Pridgen says.

Source: Flight International