Marine Corps

September 20, 2012

Throw some CH-53Ds on it: the history of the Sea Stallion

Story by Cpl. Laura Gauna
Desert Warrior Staff
Courtesy photo
An MCAS Miramar CH-53E Super Stallion from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466, the Wolfpack, lowers a Bambi Bucket into a water hole at Case Springs, Camp Pendleton, Calif., during one of four runs in order to be certified by California Department of Fire to assist in helping firefighters fight wildland fires. The 53Es replaced the 53Ds.

After more than 40 years of service, the Marine Corps retired the aging CH-53D heavy lift helicopter after it completed its final combat operation in Afghanistan last month.

The CH-53D Sea Stallion supported the Marine Air Ground Task Force commander by providing assault support transport of heavy equipment, combat troops, and supplies, day or night under all weather conditions during expeditionary, joint, or combined operations.

“From Vietnam, to Iraq and now in Afghanistan, the helicopter has provided sustaining and mission critical lift in every clime and place over past 40 plus years,” said Marine Corps Col. Robert Pridgen, program manager for the CH-53 Heavy Lift Helicopters Program Office.

“I flew with this aircraft when it first came into Iraq and to be on the last flight in Afghanistan makes this a sad but good day,” said Gunnery Sgt. Michael Schram, a Marine Aircraft Group 24 maintenance controller, during an interview regarding his last flight on the CH-53D. “It brought an end to something great and I hope that we gave closure to the legacy that the Marines in Vietnam started.”

The CH-53E (Super Stallion) was the replacement for the CH-53D and began entering the military service in February of 1981; the upgrades included a third engine, a refueling probe that allows in-flight refueling, and slight larger dimensions. These upgrades allow the CH-53E (Super Stallion) to lift a larger payload and carry more troops and cargo and fly a longer range then the CH-53D.

The CH-5E is the current heavy lift platform for the Marine Corps and will be around for the next decade.

“When the CH-53D (Sea Stallion) was replaced by the CH-53E (Super Stallion) there was huge impact on what the units were able to do and perform,” said Gunnery Sgt. William McGowan, the Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 assault support department chief. “It was a good change as the CH-53D was getting a bit too old.”

“There was a dramatic increase in power to the aircraft with the Super Stallion, which allowed the lifting of a much larger payload,” added McGowan. “It also brought a huge increase in the range that the aircraft could travel since it could now refuel in-flight without having to land.”

The CH-53E is a very capable aircraft with capabilities that will continue to be used today and in the future to support the MAGTF and the joint commander.

The replacement for the Super Stallion will be the CH-53K, which is currently being built and will begin flight testing in the next several years. It will have slightly larger internal dimensions to allow more capacity for troops and cargo, upgraded engines that will produce significantly more shaft horsepower than the ones currently on the CH-53E, and upgraded avionics which will improve the flight ability and stability of the aircraft. This version will begin military service sometime around year 2020.

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