MARINE CORPS AIR STATION NEW RIVER, N.C. --
The CH-53E Super Stallion served as the workhorse of the Marine Corps for more than 30 years; the three-engine helicopter is a heavy lift powerhouse.
No aircraft in the Department of Defense can compare to the CH-53E Super Stallion, said Capt. Peter Neirheim, an instructor pilot with Marine Heavy Helicopter Training Squadron 302 and Virginia Beach, Va., native.
"It’s the only one capable of doing what it does," said Neirheim. "It is the Marine Corps heavy lift asset, capable of lifting cargo internally and externally as well as carrying combat troops."
The large helicopter has the ability to transport more than 30,000 pounds, and accommodate more than 50 Marines. It is used to transport heavy weapons, equipment and supplies as well as troops.
"It plays a very important role in Marine Corps aviation," said Neirheim. "In my experience with two Marine Expeditionary Units it has definitely been the workhorse."
The helicopter serves as a symbol of relief to troops on the ground, said Sgt. Justin Whitley, a CH-53E Super Stallion crew chief with Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 22.
"Whenever anybody sees it coming in they know they’re either getting mail, food, supplies or their getting out of there," said Whitley. "They know they’re getting something in a huge quantity, so they’re happy."
It’s the unsung hero of Marine Corps Aviation, said Staff Sgt. Richard Ide, a CH-53E Super Stallion crew chief with VMX-22.
The aircraft’s capacity and flexibility make it noteworthy, said Ide. He described how it can be used to carry heavy equipment, and be loaded front to back, top to bottom with cargo.
"We can lift Humvees and artillery," said Whitley. "It can transport just about anything and everything."
Whitley said he saw the capabilities of the machine with his own eyes one early morning in Afghanistan. While looking at the ground to pick up small parts he heard the low roar of rotor blades.
At the time a lance corporal, Whitley looked up to see the beast approaching from the horizon, carrying a damaged CH-46 Sea Knight, a helicopter that is more than 80 feet long and weighs more than 20,000 lbs.
"Everybody just stopped and watched," said Whitley. They were compelled to see the sight despite shouts from their leadership to continue picking up parts from the ground. "The raw power of this machine is phenomenal."
To see it perform such a feat felt like a reward after the sweat and work Whitley had given to the aircraft.
"Usually as a worker you don’t get to see what your effort goes towards," said Whitley.
Whitley was able to see the entire spectrum of the helicopter, from repairing it to seeing it perform the job, he added.
"I saw the fruits of my labor," said Whitley.
The CH-53E Super Stallion has provided combat support since 1981. Marines can perform fast rope landings and repel from it. It frequently used to insert and extract troops from combat zones.
In February 2010, CH-53E Super Stallions were used for the initial insert of Marines at Marjah in Helmand Province, Afghanistan for the largest air assault since Vietnam. More than 600 troops were transported in less than two hours.
However, the feat is not unusual for the helicopter, said Capt. Jonathan Bryant, a CH-53E Super Stallion instructor with Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One. The helicopters have been used multiple times to transport an entire battalion during a period of darkness, Bryant added.
"No one else can lift what we lift," said Bryant. It can land somewhere and host a forward arming and refueling point for vehicles and aircraft. It is also used to recover downed aircraft, and to evacuate and rescue people.
"Anytime there is a major disaster CH-53E Super Stallions’ take thousands of pounds of food and relief supplies," said Neirheim.
In March 1992, two CH-53E Super Stallions were used to place 8000 lbs. concrete blocks in the path of lava from Mount Etna, a volcano, to save an Italian town, according to a publication by the Naval Historical Center.
After decades of service, the helicopter is scheduled to wind down in the coming years as the CH-53 K King Stallion, the new generation of the helicopter, takes its place in Marine Corps aviation.
It’s a bittersweet moment for those who have worked on the aircraft, said Whitley.
"It’s an amazing aircraft," said Whitley. "I love it. I’m glad to be a part of the (CH-53E Super Stallion community) before it goes away."
The CH-53K King Stallion is expected to begin operational service in 2019.