Zack says the development approach for the CH-53K team is “all about early discovery.” The use of the SIL and GTV early in the program is thought to enhance the chances of discovering design issues earlier in the test program. In addition to the GTV, there will be separate fatigue and static test articles and four flight-test aircraft. The first two flight-test aircraft are now being assembled at the company's West Palm Beach, Fla., facility.
The development phase is 62% complete, with about one-quarter of the remainder of the work focused on flight and ground testing, says Zack.
The CH-53K is the first all-digital “design-in-context” capability used by Sikorsky on any of its aircraft, Zack notes. This means that there are no drawings; the design is entirely digital and accessible by each of the major subcontractors in an integrated fashion. He says the team initially estimated that using this design concept would reduce assembly time by 30%; in some cases—such as work on the main gearbox—a 70% reduction is expected. “The limiting factor was how quickly the guy could get a fastener out of his pocket,” says Zack, noting the precision of the digital design. Sponson installation time is estimated to be 50% shorter than expected.
To fabricate the CH-53K, the company used an approach similar to Boeing's for the 787. However, as Boeing experienced problems mating parts and managing its supplier network, Sikorsky gathered lessons. Spirit AeroSystems, a key subcontractor that builds the helicopter's fuselage, is also on the 787 team and was able to provide insight on how to improve processes for the CH-53K team, says Zack.
The first four production CH-53Ks, dubbed system demonstration test articles, will be built at the West Palm Beach facility and will be used for the Marine Corps' operational evaluation. These articles, as well as manuals and spares, will also be needed to declare initial operational capability in 2018. The company has not yet announced where full-rate production will take place, but a new facility in Florida is being sized to handle the K.
As with all current military programs, affordability is essential. Zack says Sikorsky is exploring ways to reduce the price of both testing and production.
The Marines renegotiated the Sikorsky development contract last year; it originally included an award-fee schedule. The shift to an incentive-fee plan is spurring the company to deliver as much as six months early on key milestones, an achievable task, says Zack. “We wanted to incentivize them to meet some cost targets and some schedule targets,” says Pridgen.
First flight is slated for the first quarter of 2014 based on the accelerated plan.