News | July 10, 2024

Marine’s New CH-53K Helicopter Transports F-35 Airframe Between Test Sites in Maryland, N.J.

By Michael Land

Marines flying a CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopter transported April 24 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. 
A Marine aircrew from Marine Test and Evaluation Squadron (VMX) 1 flew the most powerful helicopter in the Department of Defense, carrying 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.

NAWCAD Lakehurst provides unique, full-service, test expertise, from test planning, setup and configuration to test execution and data analysis for all varieties of Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment (ALRE).
“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 the 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.
VMX-1, headquartered at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, is the Marine Corps’ Operational Test & Evaluation squadron called upon to create and refine tactics, techniques and procedures for the service’s aviation platforms and systems.
Minutes after 11 a.m., the almost 100-foot long helicopter lifted the approximately 22,000-pound airframe from the airfield at NAS Patuxent River, briefly headed west, and then turned southeast and headed out over the Chesapeake Bay to begin the 305 nautical mile transport. The CH-53K is currently cleared to conduct lifts up to 36,000 pounds.

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 CH53K King Stallion significantly increases the combat potential for the U.S Marine Corps' newest workhorse in its stable,” Horne said. 
He added that VMX-1; Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (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. 
“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,” Horne said. “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.”

Marine Corps Aviation teams coordinated and planned extensively with the F-35 Pax ITF team to execute the evolution safely and successfully, and both teams worked with the Pax River Cargo Lab, whose gear the Marine helicopter support team (HST) used to sling the airframe.
In short, teamwork was the hallmark of the mission.
Key to success was “all the prior coordination and the goodwill of each team,” Horne said. He identified the NAWCAD Cargo Lab at Pax River; HX-21; Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23, the fixed-wing tactical aircraft test squadron; VX-20, the naval force aircraft test squadron, who they tanked with on the way up; the New Jersey State Police; and the NAWCAD Lakehurst team.
Additionally, he said the work of Marines on the helicopter support team “was a big help,” ensuring “everything went smoothly for the 53K.”
The HST, which was comprised of landing support specialists, or “Red Patchers,” from the Combat Logistics Battalion 26 (CLB-26), traveled from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

“The real juice, meat and potatoes that we came here for…was this lift,” said Marine Sgt. Joe Padilla, who had a safety role during the connection. Other Marines had roles of grounding the helicopter, the “static,” and connecting the cargo, the “hook.”
“Our team has been looking for something challenging, something big for us…and I think the best part was being able to accomplish our team’s dreams,” he said. “They came out here, and they did phenomenally.”
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.
The CH-53K is the U.S. Marine Corps’ heavy lift replacement for the CH-53E Super Stallion.

The CH-53K is a new-build helicopter that will expand the fleet’s ability to move more material faster throughout the area of responsibility using proven and mature technologies. The helicopter provides advanced technology and unmatched heavy lift capabilities, and can lift nearly three-times more than its predecessor.
Michael Landis a public affairs officer with the Patuxent River F-35 Integrated Test Force.