STRATFORD -- This summer, Sikorsky’s Stratford plant will be assembling a state-of-the-art heavy lift helicopter for the U.S. Marine Corps.
The first CH-53K King Stallion was delivered Wednesday to the Marine Corps Air Station in North Carolina so the Marines can conduct a logistics assessment.
Last year, Sikorsky was awarded the contract to build 200 King Stallion helicopters for the Marines, and production is set to start in Stratford within the next few months.
FOX 61 was granted an inside look at the manufacturing floor. We spoke with Sikorsky President Dan Schultz.
“The next big thing for us -- we have the 53K coming, and that’s going to fill up one whole side of our line down here. That’s good news because it’s jobs and it creates the supplier base, everything else coming in,” said Schultz.
As the helicopter comes in, the landscape of the manufacturing floor will be changing.
“It’s hard to imagine by just looking at this helicopter, but the K is about another ten feet higher and it goes back two helicopters long from this, so you can see how big that is,” said Schultz.
“Here’s the Blackhawk tail rotor blade. Here’s the 53K tail rotor blade,” he said as he showed us the big difference.
Schultz says it needs to be bigger for the helicopter’s heavy lift ability. It’s a feature that makes the 53K enticing for the military. It’s big enough for a Humvee to drive inside, which hasn’t been done before.
“Ever since we went into Desert Shield and Desert Storm, all of the vehicles that the Army and the Marines use to get along are Humvees right? And we’ve up-armored them, put a lot more armor on them for IEDs and because the enemy has evolved, they’re trying to use IEDs to deny access for our military. It’s a very dangerous evolution. And our armor on our Humvees have gotten bigger and bigger and heavier in weight, and we need helicopters to be able to lift them to higher altitudes and longer distances. That’s what the 53K will bring to the Marine Corps."
The helicopter can be used in search and rescue operations as well as delivering aid and transporting troops.
“So it gives them the power to really go places they haven’t been able to go, and it lifts all the heavy equipment the Marine Corps has,” said Schultz.
Schultz knows first-hand how essential those functions are because he served in the Marines and was one of the first Marine pilots to train under the 53E at Sikorsky.
“When I took over the company, I stood up and I said, 'I’m one of the guys that you brought home, everywhere, every time, and I’m very proud of that.' All these employees who get up to work every day have that same motivation to bring us back everywhere, and that makes me feel good about being in this job."
Sikorsky spokesman Paul Jackson says the 53K production will happen in phases with the first few contracts calling for two or three aircraft. As Sikorsky gets into larger production in several years, the workforce will ramp up significantly.
There are currently about 7,900 Sikorsky employees in Connecticut.