Exclusive: Israel's next military helicopter?

Meet "King Stallion", the new chopper which will be integrated in the US Marines and may be purchased soon by the Israeli Air Force.

Yissachar Ruas,

King Stallion helicopter
King Stallion helicopter
Yissachar Ruas

Most IDF combat soldiers have encountered the “Yasur” helicopter on one occasion or another during their service.

Whether supplying ground troops, transporting forces or unfortunately conducting MEDEVAC operations, the CH-53 Stallion, as it is known in English, is the backbone of the IAF’s logistical air arm.

The Yasur also works in the shadows. Despite its size and sometimes because of it, it is also used for IDF Saret units Special Ops. One of its more recent known ops was conducted during the Second Lebanon War when the IDF’s Special Unit Sayeret Matkal was flown with the Yasur deep into Baalbek Lebanon in an attempt to reveal the location of two Israeli kidnapped soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser.

Now, after nearly 50 years of service, the CH-53 Stallion is feeling like a normal 50-year-old person. The Yasur needs more attention and is frequently sent for “check ups” at the IAF’s maintenance depots. The IAF had attempted to replace the Yasur in 2008, but was unsuccessful in finding a suitable replacement. The heavy lift helo is a workhorse on the job and considered extremely reliable despite its age.

Although the Yasur has been in the spotlight negatively for two of Israel’s tougher moments due to a collision took place in 1997 over Shear Yishuv killing 73 soldiers and in 1979 killing 54 soldiers, the Yasur actually has an extremely safe record in comparison with other aircraft with regards to the amount of flying hours.

The helicopter which serves today in the IAF still looks almost the same to the one which entered service 50 years ago. Its “brains” have been upgraded throughout the years due to several modernization programs, but if you take the helicopter apart like they do for inspection in the IAF Maintenance Depot, the airframe is just as it was 50 years ago.

The US Marine Corps, the largest Stallion operator in the world, had initially intended on replacing its own helicopters in a decade or so. Due to the war on terror and the US’s ongoing military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US Stallions have been suffering from much larger workloads than anticipated which has caused the US Department of Defense to speed along the process of finding the Stallion a proper replacement. Sikorsky, which designed the Stallion in the 1960s, started developing a new heavy lift Helo in 2006, but was not feeling the pressure until a report came out showing that the Stallions currently operating in the US Marine Corps have been used way more than anticipated and that a replacement for them is needed as soon as possible.

Sikorsky’s development team produced the CH-53K, known affectionately as “King Stallion”. The King first flew in 2015, and overcame many hurdles prior to its first flight. Following the flight it seems the program has progressed very quickly. Since first flying in October 2015, it has completed 400 flying hours and just recently achieved “Milestone C” status, which is a big step in the helicopter’s development, giving it a “Seal of Approval” by the US Government.

The “King” looks very similar to the Yasur from the outside. From the inside, however, it’s a completely new aircraft, with technology far more advanced than any other helicopter in the world. I had the opportunity to see it up close and Sikorsky’s Development Facility in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Looks can be deceiving. While the “King Stallion” looks very similar to the Yasur, it has no parts at all that are the same. The King is a completely new design that just looks externally like a “regular” Stallion.

The King is years ahead technologically than any other helicopter currently in service. It features a “Fly By Wire” system which is basically an extremely advanced computer that translates the pilots controls to the rotors allowing for the removal of complex hydraulic systems which could now be removed from the new helicopter freeing up more than a full ton of weight for more cargo.

The Fly By Wire also allows the pilot to input certain aspects of flying like hovering steadily with just the press of a button, something which can be extremely complex in the previous models. The test pilots at Sikorsky view this feature as a system that enhances flight safety, the workload of flying the aircraft according to them has been reduced 50%, allowing pilots for more time to “keep their heads out the window” and monitor their safety which is especially crucial when two or more helicopters fly together.

Additionally the helicopter has a Mechanical Diagnostic System, which basically notifies the maintenance crews when a part needs to be replaced. The system can also foresee these issues therefore giving squadrons time to plan maintenance with regards to the flying schedule which helps conserve manpower time in the hanger.

The Israeli Air Force, should it choose this helicopter, would be receiving an enormous leap in capability. The King Stallion can carry three times more weight than Israel’s Yasurs. The King has also been designed with the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts in mind, since the conditions in those countries is very similar to Israel. Israel would be receiving a helicopter with issues such hot temperature of operation already in mind.

The Marines plan on declaring the “King” operational by 2020. Should Israel decide to order the type Sikorsky would create a special "line” just for the production meant for Israel. Replacing an aircraft is never an easy task, but it would seem like the transition from the Yasur to the King Stallion would be much smoother than transitioning to a different aircraft. Time will tell if the replacement for the Yasur can only be another Yasur, or maybe the “King of the Yasurs”.



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