In 1967 the US Marine Corps issued a requirement for a heavylift transport helicopter with a lifting capacity 1.8 times that of the CH-53D. The Sikorsky developed S-80 helicopter to meet this requirement. It evolved from the earlier Sikorsky S-65 (H-53 Sea Stallion) mainly by adding a third engine and a larger rotor system. A fuselage was stretched by 1.88 m. The S-80 prototype made its first flight in 1974. Since then it was the largest and most powerful helicopter outside Russia. Initial production contract was awarded in 1978. This helicopter was adopted by US Marine Corps as the CH-53E Super Stallion in 1981. The “CH” designation stands for “Cargo Helicopter”. The Super Stallion saw its first shipboard deployment in 1983. A total of 227 machines were built and 180 of them are still in service. Currently the Super Stallion is the largest and heaviest helicopter used by the US military. The CH-53E is expected to remain in service until 2025.
US Marines are using these helicopters to deliver troops, vehicles and supplies from ships to shore. US Navy acquired a small number of these helicopters for shipboard resupply. Also US Navy uses a dedicated minesweeping version.
This helicopter can carry 37 troops. With centerline seats installed the Super Stallion can carry 55 soldiers. Alternatively it can carry cargo with a maximum weight of 13.6 t internally and 14.5 t on external load. It is capable of lifting LAV-25 armored vehicle or M198 155-mm field howitzer with crew and ammunition. It can recover aircraft up to its own size.
The Sea Stallion is operated by a crew of 5, including 2 pilots and a combat crew of 3 gunners. During peacetime it is flown only by 2 pilots.
There is provision for 7.62-mm minuguns or 12.7-mm machine guns. The Super Stallion can be armed with 2 window-mounted GAU-15/A heavy machine guns and a ramp-mounted GAU-21 heavy machine gun.
Though the original CH-53 has two engines, while the CH-53E has three engines each developing 4 380 shp. It has a larger rotor system with 7-blade main rotor in place of the previous 6-blade one. The main rotor blades are made of titanium-fiberglass composite. Also the tail rotor was canted 20 degrees. Since 1974 until recently the Super Stallion was the most powerful helicopter ever built outside Russia.
The CH-53E is fitted with a digital automatic flight control system. It prevents the pilot from over steering the helicopter. At some point helicopters were upgraded with FLIR units.
The Super Stallion fits on amphibious assault vessels. The helicopter has a refueling probe and can be refuelled in flight from a KC-130. It can also refuel from a surface ship while in hover mode.