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Monster military helicopter being tested at the GUC airport

Sikorsky King Stallion performs at high altitude

By Kristy Acuff

The Gunnison airport has been a busy place this summer and not just because of tourists. Lockheed Martin has been using the high-altitude helicopter pad to test its latest incarnation of the Sikorsky military helicopter.

The Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion, a 99-foot-long chopper with a rotor diameter of 80 feet, capable of carrying 90,000 pounds at take-off, is being tested this summer at the Gunnison airport. The three-engine Sikorsky King Stallion is a large, heavy-lift cargo/troop helicopter currently being developed for the United States Marine Corps.

“Just like the human body is tasked at high altitude, so are aircraft engines and components. They have to work harder to get the required performance,” says Rick Lamport, Gunnison airport manager. “Aerospace companies come to Gunnison to test aircraft performance at high altitude.”

Lamport says the helicopter is tested only during the daytime under low wind conditions and while there is no set schedule, tests most often occur in the mornings. While undergoing the tests, the helicopter remains tethered to the landing pad while lifting calibrated weights, as operators evaluate the lifting performance in the region’s thin air.

Along with the helicopter, approximately 70 Lockheed Martin employees are in Gunnison for six to seven weeks to take part in the operations. Technicians, pilots and data analysis staff have been in the area since testing began in early July.

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