The USA’s H-53 Engine Upgrade Program
DID FOCUS Article “CH-53K: The USMC’s HLR Helicopter Program” notes that:
“On average, existing CH-53E aircraft are more than 15 years old, have over 3,000 flight hours under tough conditions, and are becoming more and more of a maintenance challenge with a 44:1 maintenance man-hours:flight hours ratio. Not to mention the resulting $20,000 per flight-hour cost ratio. According to Jane’s Defense Weekly, a 1999 analysis showed that the existing fleet has a service life of 6,120 flight hours, based on fatigue at the point where the tail folds. Currently, the USMC expects the existing fleet will start to reach this point in 2011, at a rate of 15 aircraft per year.”
That kind of maintenance time can create a downward spiral as work backlogs delay maintenance, which increases the number of off-duty helicopters, which forces the Navy to run existing helicopters harder, which means they need maintenance more quickly. Airframe fatigue issues will be tricky and unpredictable, as experience with the USAF’s F-15 fleet demonstrates. On the maintenance front, however, Defense News reports that the US Navy is undertaking a $150 million engine upgrade involving titanium nitride-coated blades on helicopter engine compressors. TiN is already used on USMC CH-46 Sea Knights and British Lynx helicopters, among others, to help cope with the sandblasting these components receive in desert operations. The goal is to improve the “time on wing” from 350 hours to 1,100 hours, and time between full overhauls from 2,400 to 3,200 hours, resulting in an estimated savings of $22 million per year. They’re already part way there. About half of the fleet’s 3-engine CH-53Es Super Stallion mainstays, older twin-engine CH-53Ds, and MH-53E Sea Dragon minehunters have been upgraded, and “average time on wing” has risen to about 665 hours. See the full Gannett Navy Times report.