Marine Corps CH-53K Executes Heavy Lift in Challenging Conditions
12 Oct 2021

On Sept. 5, 2021, Marines in two CH-53K King Stallions from Marine Operational Test & Evaluation Squadron 1 (VMX-1) successfully executed the recovery of a downed Navy MH-60S helicopter in the White Mountain Range 20 miles to the north of Bishop, CA. The mission to lift the 15,200 lb. search and rescue helicopter involved challenging conditions at an altitude of approximately 12,000 feet above sea level.

VMX-1 viewed the recovery as an opportunity to operationally evaluate the CH-53K in a unique and extreme environment. The VMX-1 Heavy Lift Detachment was operating out of Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) Twentynine Palms conducting a strenuous period of operational test on the aircraft, which was in its second month of Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E).

“This lift was made possible by planners at all levels in VMX-1, 1st Landing Support Battalion (LSB), NAS Fallon Maintenance and their Search and Rescue Team, as well as PMA-261,” said Colonel Byron Sullivan, the Commanding Officer of VMX-1.

This accomplishment highlighted the Marine Corps’ efforts to retain a next-generation heavy lift capability in support of the service’s future operating concept. Marine Corps aviation looks to the CH-53K as a much needed replacement for its current heavy lift helicopters.

The CH-53K is intended to be a critical enabler for the execution of Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations, providing logistics support to a forward-deployed, distributed force. It is designed to provide greater payload capability in all environments, at both sea-level and high-altitude conditions. VMX-1’s conduct of CH-53K IOT&E provides the opportunity for the Marine Corps to validate the aircraft’s performance and ability to meet the service’s needs prior to full rate production.

VMX-1’s Marines had just completed one of the most rigorous phases of the aircraft’s IOT&E, which consisted of evaluating the helicopter in mountainous and desert terrain. This previous testing prepared the detachment well for the exhaustive, detailed planning and risk management associated with a high-altitude, heavy-weight external lift.

“The team at VMX-1 took all precautions as they planned for this lift to include a thorough risk management analysis to identify all concerns. The team then executed this mission according to the plan in an exceptionally professional manner with thorough briefs and debriefs for all personnel involved,” said Sullivan.

The future of Marine Corps aviation is well underway, and the addition of enhanced heavy lift capability is aligned with the Commandant’s Force Design guidance to develop the future force and required modernization.

The Marine Corps aims to use the CH-53K to optimize the force for naval expeditionary warfare in contested spaces in partnership with the joint force, allies and partners.

The mission of VMX-1 is to conduct operational test and evaluation of the U.S. Marine Corps aviation platforms and systems under the authority of Commander, Operational Test and Evaluation Force or Director, Marine Corps Operational Test and Evaluation Activity.


Maj. J. A. Hernandez

Headquarters Marine Corps