Sikorsky has selected four subcontractors to build the fuselage for the 42t CH-53K heavylift helicopter after holding a 12-month competition. The unveiling of the fuselage partners - Aurora Flight Sciences, EDO, GKN Aerospace and Spirit AeroSystems - largely completes the CH-53K team.

The company's four industry partners will each deliver different sections of the fuselage, with Spirit to deliver the cockpit and cabin, GKN the aft transition, EDO the tail rotor pylon and sponsons, and Aurora the main rotor pylon. The fuselage team will have to meet the aircraft's ambitious performance targets at its baseline weight of 38,400kg (84,700lb), which is nearly 5,900kg heavier than the legacy CH-53E. The newer model must be able to carry a 27t cargo for a distance of more than 320km (170nm).

Sikorsky last January selected the 6,000shp-class (4,470kW) General Electric GE37-1B, reviving the T407 turboprop cancelled 16 years earlier. Each CH-53K will be powered by three of the engines.

The US Marine Corps plans to order 161 of the new aircraft, including five flight test vehicles, to replace a similar number of CH-53Es currently in service. The scheduled in-service date for the first CH-53K unit is 2015, but the need for a replacement aircraft is urgent. The USMC is scrambling to reclaim seven retired CH-53E airframes to boost the fleet.

First flight of the CH-53K has moved to early fiscal year 2012, although the overall schedule remains intact. In March, a Government Accountability Office report warned the CH-53K's blade damper system is not mature, noting that a prototype damper will be tested and fielded later this year.

GKN has received a contract to produce structures for an initial seven aircraft to be delivered between 2009 and 2012, and expects a subsequent full-rate production award to value up to $400 million until 2022.

Source: Flight International