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NAVAL AIR STATION PATUXENT RIVER, Md.—U.S. Marine Corps has begun a full reset of its CH-53E Super Stallion heavy lift helicopters, an effort aimed at significantly increasing the number of operationally fit aircraft and addressing systemic issues, which in recent years drove the platform’s readiness level to unsustainable depths.
The issue first came to light following the January 2014 crash of an MH-53E Sea Dragon-the Navy’s version of the aircraft-off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia, during a routine training exercise. Three of the five Sailors onboard were killed. The subsequent investigation determined that electrical wires inside the aircraft had chafed against and breached a fuel line, sparking a fire that flooded the cabin and cockpit with thick smoke. The crash prompted an inspection of all CH/MH-53s for signs of chaffing between cabin fuel tubes and electrical wiring.
“What was discovered was that the material condition of the aircraft, both the CH-53E and the MH-53E, was degraded,” said Col. Hank Vanderborght, program manager for the H-53 Heavy Lift Helicopters Program Office (PMA-261) at Naval Air Systems Command. “Those helicopters have been around since the early 80s, so 30-plus years, and we’d been at war [on terrorism] for the last 15 years, so the machines had been used pretty hard.”