How do you move a 16,000 pound M198 Howitzer, with its crew and ammo, 50 miles over impossible terrain in one night? You get yourself a Super Stallion, the biggest and strongest air pony in the US military.
The Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion is the largest and heaviest helicopter in the western world (i.e., non-Soviet). It's built by Sikorsky Aircraft and based on the CH-53D Sea Stallion design, though the Super Stallion has added a third engine, seventh rotor blade, and tilted the rear rotor 20 degrees off vertical to provide added lift. It was first put into service in 1981 and has since been a mainstay for the Marine Corps in all of its heavy lifting and mass troop transportation missions.
The Super Stallion is often called the "Hurricane Maker" because the down-wash that the helicopter generates is enough knock full-grown men off their feet. The triple T64-GE-416 turbo shafts that power this beast generate sufficient lift to transport up to 55 troops or 30,000 pounds of cargo internally or can carry 36,000 pounds externally. That's enough to lift heavy equipment from the eight-wheeled LAV-25 Light Armored Vehicle to planes and helicopters its own size—virtually every aircraft in the Marine Corp arsenal, save for the KC-130.
The CH-53E has been significantly improved over the previous Seas Stallion model to include a stronger transmission, titanium-fiberglass composite rotor blades, and an automatic flight control system. This was the digital flight control system used by the US military and prevented the pilot from overstressing the aircraft (as it could literally tear itself apart if pushed too hard).
These motors are so powerful that, despite its massive size—99 feet long, nearly 28 feet tall, and weighing 33,000 pounds—the CH-53E is considered to have outstanding speed—topping out at 173 knots (196 mph, 315 km/h) with a range of 550 nautical miles. It's outfitted with infra-red suppressors on the engine exhaust pipes that reduce the helicopter's heat signature. This lowers the likelihood of ground-based heat-seeking missiles from locking on. If they do, the Super Stallion is also equipped with a chaff dispenser system and strategically-placed titanium and kevlar armor plating.
The helicopters are equipped with Night Vision, FLIR, Doppler, and ground-following radar—all of which is fed directly to the pilots' Integrated Helmet and Display Sighting Systems. If return fire is necessary, the CH-53E is outfitted with two window-mounted .50 BMG XM218 machine guns and a .50 caliber GAU-21 machine gun mounted on the rear ramp. They've even loaded with one Sidewinder or two Stinger AAM's, though the missiles have never been used in combat.
The CH-53E is nearing the end of its storied and illustrious career—marked with saving civilians from the US Embassy in Mogadishu at the start of the Somali Civil War in 1991, rescuing Captain Scott O'Grady after his F-16 was shot down over Bosnia in 1995, or taking part in the longest amphibious raid in history when six CH-53E's secured the first landing base in Afghanistan in 2001. It will soon be replaced by the new CH-53K, which will feature new engines, new composite rotor blades, and an even wider cabin.
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