Sikorsky CH-53K, Boeing CH-47 go rotor-to-rotor for Germany’s new heavy-lift helicopter
By Dan Parsons | January 14, 2020
Estimated reading time 6 minutes, 3 seconds.
Bids are in for Germany’s new heavy-lift transport helicopter and, as expected, the single-main-rotor Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion will go head-to-head against Boeing’s tandem-rotor CH-47F Chinook.
Both helicopters are on offer for the German military’s “Schwerer Transporthubschrauber” (STH) program to replace the Sikorsky CH-53G. Germany plans to award a contract for the work in late 2020 and eventually buy between 40 and 60 helicopters beginning in 2023.
Sikorsky and Rheinmetall, which announced its bid on Jan. 13, formed an STH project team of more than 10 German companies, which includes MTU Aero Engines, Autoflug GmbH and Hydro Systems KG.
Beth Parcella, Sikorsky’s CH-53K international business development director, said the companies angled “to build a strong German industrial team early on and to capitalize on the know-how of the German teammates for the STH project.”
Boeing announced its formal bid early Jan. 14, but said it was submitted the previous day.
“We’re pleased to have submitted our response and look forward to working with the sikor and German industry to bring the best value proposition to the German Bundeswehr,” said Michael Hostetter, vice president of Boeing Defense, Space & Security in Germany, in a press release. “The H-47 Chinook is a one-of-a-kind platform capable of performing missions that other helicopters cannot. It is a proven multi-mission heavy-lift helicopter with advanced technology that meets the German requirements.”
The company says sustainment, training and some production would be performed in Germany if the Chinook is chosen. Boeing already employs more than 1,000 people at 11 locations throughout Germany. Eight NATO countries — the Netherlands, Italy, Greece, Spain, Turkey, U.K., Canada, and the United States — operate some variant of the CH-47.
“We will continue to build on and expand our Germany Industry Team for the H-47 Chinook Schwerer Transporthubschrauber competition,” said Michael Haidinger, president of Boeing Germany. “In addition, we are committed to bringing high-end engineering and production opportunities from across the Boeing enterprise to German industry.”
Both Boeing and the Sikorsky/Rheinmetall team have formally pitched aircraft. It now falls to the German Air Force to decide what it wants in a multi-mission heavy-lift transport aircraft. The two helicopters have fairly similar performance characteristics, but with wildly different designs.
Like the incumbent CH-53G, the King Stallion is a single-main-rotor aircraft initially designed to satisfy the U.S. Marine Corps’ need for a heavy ship-to-shore helicopter to deliver supplies and troops to land during an amphibious assault.
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The 53K, powered by three 7,500-shaft-horsepower (shp) General Electric GE38-1B engines, has a maximum design gross weight of 88,000 pounds (39,900 kilograms), or 74,000 lb. (33,565 kg) with internal load. The aircraft can lift 36,000 lb. (16,330 kg) on the center hook and carry 37 troops aside from pilots and crew. When it enters service, it should be able to carry 27,000 lb. (12,200 kg) external load 110 nautical miles at 90 F (33 C), at an altitude of 3,000 feet (915 meters).
Competing against the 53K is the venerable CH-47F Chinook, which in its current configuration can take off at 46,280 pounds (20,990 kg) at 4,000 feet (1,220 m) at 95 F (35 C). In the in-development Block II configuration — strengthened airframe, drivetrain, new advanced rotor blades and avionics — should take off at 48,000 lb. (21,770 kg) in the same conditions. F-model Chinooks can carry 36 troops, have an external sling-load capacity of 26,000 lb. (11,790 kg) using the center hook and are powered by twin Lycoming T55-GA714A engines, each with 4,733 shp.
Both are capable of air-to-air refueling. Both teams are hyping the capabilities of their respective aircraft to perform personnel and cargo transport in combat as well as disaster relief, humanitarian, medical evacuation (medevac) or combat search-and-rescue (CSAR) operations.
Sikorsky claims that compared to the CH-53K, “no other heavy-lift helicopter in the world can transport more water to fight fires and simultaneously carry material and personnel.
“The combination of high airspeed, a large water capacity and long mission endurance in operational areas allows the CH-53K to transport up to four times more water than its competitors,” the company said in a statement.
If its bid is successful, the Sikorsky/Rheinmetall team have announced plans to establish a logistics hub and an STH fleet-support center at Leipzig/Halle Airport.
“The companies are in advanced talks with representatives of the state government, local companies and the airport operator,” the team said.
Including German domestic defense businesses in its bid gives Sikorsky and Rheinmetall an advantage, Mike Schmidt, managing director of Rheinmetall Aviation Services, said in a statement.
“German companies will play a significant role in the success of the CH-53K program,” he said. “For the industry, this means the creation of many new, long-term jobs for highly qualified employees and an important transfer of know-how. Sikorsky and Rheinmetall prepared the application together over a long period of time — this has strengthened the bonds within our team. We have developed into a highly effective unit.”