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CH-53 Sea Stallion
MH-53E Sea Dragon
MH-53J Pave Low III

The CH-53D Sea Stallion is designed for the transportation of equipment, supplies and personnel during the assault phase of an amphibious operation and subsequent operations ashore. Capable of both internal and external transport of supplies, the CH-53D is shipboard compatible and capable of operation in adverse weather conditions both day and night. The CH-53D is now filling a role in the Marine Corps' medium lift helicopter fleet.

The twin-engine helicopter is capable of lifting 7 tons (6.35 metric tons). Improvements to the aircraft include an elastomeric rotor head, external range extension fuel tanks, crashworthy fuel cells, ARC-182 radios, and defensive electronic countermeasure equipment. The helicopter will carry 37 passengers in its normal configuration and 55 passengers with centerline seats installed.

Inventory: Active - 54; Reserve - 18

The CH-53D is a more capable version of the CH-53A introduced into the Marine Corps in 1966. Used extensively both afloat and ashore, the Sea Stallion was the heavy lift helicopter for the Marine Corps until the introduction of the CH-53E triple engine variant of the H-53 family into the fleet in 1981. The CH-53D has performed its multi-role mission lifting both equipment and personnel in training and combat, most recently in Operation Desert Storm, where the helicopter performed with distinction.

The CH-53E, the Marine Corps' heavy lift helicopter designed for the transportation of material and supplies, is compatible with most amphibious class ships and is carried routinely aboard LHA (Landing, Helicopter, Assault: an amphibious assault ship), LPH (Landing Platform, Helicopter: an amphibious assault ship) and now LHD (Landing, Helicopter, Dock: an amphibious assault ship) type ships. The helicopter is capable of lifting 16 tons (14.5 metric tons) at sea level, transporting the load 50 nautical miles (57.5 miles) and returning. A typical load would be a 16,000 pound (7264 kilogram) M198 howitzer or a 26,000 pound (11,804 kilogram) Light Armored Vehicle. The aircraft also can retrieve downed aircraft including another CH-53E. The 53E is equipped with a refueling probe and can be refueled in flight giving the helicopter indefinite range.

The CH-53E is a follow-on for its predecessor, the CH-53D. Improvements include the addition of a third engine to give the aircraft the ability to lift the majority of the Fleet Marine Force's equipment, a dual point cargo hook system, improved main rotor blades, and composite tail rotor blades. A dual digital automatic flight control system and engine anti-ice system give the aircraft an all-weather capability. The helicopter seats 37 passengers in its normal configuration and has provisions to carry 55 passengers with centerline seats installed. With the dual point hook systems, it can carry external loads at increased airspeeds due to the stability achieved with the dual point system.

Inventory: 160

Derived from an engineering change proposal to the twin-engine CH-53D helicopter, the CH-53E has consistently proven its worth to the Fleet commanders with its versatility and range. With four and one half hours' endurance, the Super Stallion can move more equipment over rugged terrain in bad weather and at night. During Operation Eastern Exit two CH-53Es launched from amphibious ships and flew 463 nautical miles (532.45 miles) at night, refueling twice enroute, to rescue American and foreign allies from the American Embassy in the civil war-torn capital of Mogadishu, Somalia in January of 1990. Two CH-53Es rescued Air Force Capt. Scott O'Grady in Bosnia in June 1995.

From FY 1996 through FY 1997, a Service Life Assessment Program (SLAP) was conducted to develop usage and fatigue life profile, and an Integrated Mechanical Diagnostic (IMD) system for the H-53E. FY 1998 Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) begins to correct deficiencies in aircraft dynamic components and mission systems. The effort will increase reliability, maintainability, and safety while reducing the cost of ownership. The Marine Corps Aviation Plan shows the CH-53D remaining in service through 2015. Therefore a Service Life Assessment Program (SLAP) must be conducted in order to ascertain what actions must be taken to safely operate the aircraft until it is replaced by the MV-22. The results of these efforts will be used to justify APN-5 funding of a SLEP for the CH-53D if warranted. FY 99 funding is also utilized for Phase II of the CH-53E SLEP.

MH-53E Sea Dragon

The newest military version of Sikorsky's H-53E/S80 series, the MH-53E Sea Dragon, is the Western world's largest helicopter. The MH-53E is used primarily for Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM), with a secondary mission of shipboard delivery. Additional mission capabilities include air-to-air refueling, hover in-flight refueling, search and rescue, and external cargo transport operations, in both land and seaborne environments. The MH-53E was derived from the CH-53E Super Stallion and is heavier and has a greater fuel capacity than its ancestor. The MH-53s can operate from carriers and other warships. Sea Dragon is capable of carrying up to 55 troops or a 16-ton payload 50 nautical miles or a 10-ton payload 500 nautical miles. The MH-53E is capable of towing a variety of mine-sweeping countermeasures systems, including the Mk 105 minesweeping sleed, the ASQ-14 side-scan sonar, and the Mk 103 mechanical minesweeping system.

MH-53J Pave Low III

The MH-53J's mission is to perform low-level, long-range, undetected penetration into denied areas, day or night, in adverse weather, for infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces.

The MH-53J Pave Low III heavy-lift helicopter is the largest and most powerful helicopter in the Air Force inventory, and the most technologically advanced helicopter in the world. Its terrain-following, terrain-avoidance radar and forward-looking infrare d sensor, along with a projected map display, enable the crew to follow terrain contours and avoid obstacles, making low-level penetration possible.

The helicopter is equipped with armor plating, and a combination of three 7.62mm miniguns or .50 caliber machine guns. It can transport 38 troops or 14 litters and has an external cargo hook with a 20,000-pound (9,000-kilogram) capacity.

The MH-53J has twin turbo-shaft engines; self-lubricating, all-metal main and tail rotors; and a large horizontal stabilizer on the tail rotor pylon's right side.

The MH-53J Pave Low is a modified version of the HH-53 Super Jolly Green Giant helicopter used extensively during the Vietnam War for special operations and rescue of combat personnel. During past space programs, the HH-53 was on duty at the launch site as the primary astronaut recovery vehicle. Under the Air Force's Pave Low IIIE program, nine MH-53H's and 32 HH-53s were modified for night and adverse weather operations and designated MH-53J's. Their modifications included forward-looking infrared, iner tial global positioning system, Doppler navigation systems, a terrain-following and terrain-avoidance radar, an on-board computer and integrated avionics to enable precise navigation to and from target areas.

MH-53J's were used in a variety of missions during Desert Storm. Pave Lows were among the first aircraft into Iraq when they led Army AH-64 Apaches to destroy Iraqi early warning radars and opened a hole in enemy air defenses for the opening air armada. In addition to infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special forces teams throughout Iraq and Kuwait, Pave Lows provided search and rescue coverage for coalition air forces in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey and the Persian Gulf.

An MH-53J made the first successful combat recovery of a downed pilot in Desert Storm. Following the war, MH-53J's were deployed to Northern Iraq to support Operation Provide Comfort, assisting displaced Kurds. Pave Lows were also used extensively during Operation Just Cause in Panama.

General Characteristics


CH-53E Sea Stallion


Sikorsky Aircraft (Prime), General Electric (Engines)


  • Seven-blade main rotor
  • Four-blade canted tail rotor
  • Designed for land- and ship-based operations
  • Automatic flight control and anti-icing systems give the helicopter an all-weather flight capability.
  • Empty weight: 33,226 pounds
  • Maximum gross weight: 73,500 pounds
  • Fuel capacity: 15,483 pounds (2,277 gallons/JP-5)
  • Overall length: 99 ft 1/2 in
  • Height: 28 ft 4 in
  • Rotor diameter: 79 ft
  • Can be configured for wheeled or palletized cargo
  • Seats for 55 passengers or litters for 24 patients
  • External cargo of up to 36,000 pounds may be transported by using either the single- or two-point suspension system.
  • Can conduct air-to-air refueling and helicopter in-flight refueling (HIFR)
  • Has provisions for internal range extension tanks

Power Plant:

  • Three General Electric T64-GE-416/416A turboshaft engines
  • Each engine can produce 4,380 shaft horsepower


  • Maximum range (unrefueled): 480 nautical miles
  • Ferry range: 990 nautical miles
  • Maximum endurance (unrefueled): 5.1 hours
  • Maximum allowable airspeed: 150 knots


  • APR-39 Radar Hazard Warning Set
  • ALE-39 Chaff and Flare Dispenser
  • ALQ-157 Infrared Jammer
  • AAR-47 Missile Warning System

    Mission and Capabilities:

    • Primary mission is movement and vertical delivery of cargo and equipment.
    • When properly equipped, can be used for airborne mine countermeasures (AMCM)
    • Designed to carry 32,000 pounds of cargo at cruise speed to a range of no less than 50 nautical miles
    • At destination, the helicopter can discharge its cargo, equipment, or troops and return no less than 50 nautical miles—arriving with at least 20 minutes of fuel in reserve.
    • Designed to retrieve another CH-53E at a range of 20 nautical miles

    Program Summary:

    • The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps have purchased 172 CH-53Es and have accepted delivery of 149.
    • Operated by six tactical squadrons, one training squadron, and one special mission squadron.
    • Current procurement objective for support of active force requirements is 186 aircraft.
    • Slated to replace the aging RH-53D in two Marine Corps Reserve squadrons.
    • Planned to be operational through 2025
    • Improved operational capability at night and during periods of reduced visibility will be provided by incorporating Helicopter Night Vision System (HNVS) and the Aviator Night Vision System/Head-Up Display (ANVIS/HUD).
    • Enhanced night fighting capability is provided by modifying interior and exterior lighting systems for Night Vision Goggle (NVG) compatibility.
    • Pilot and copilot crashworthy seats have been incorporated.
    • Improved troop seats, which allow for rapid cabin reconfiguration, will also be incorporated.
    • Additional modifications include: the Global Positioning System (GPS), the AN/ARC-210 radio, improved engine fire detection, and a tail rotor coupling monitor.

    MH-53E Sea Dragon


    • Seven-blade main rotor
    • Four-blade tail rotor
    • Designed for land- and ship-based operations
    • Empty weight: 36,745 pounds
    • Maximum gross weight: 69,750 pounds
    • Internal fuel capacity: 21,844 pounds (JP-5)
    • Overall length: 99 ft 1/2 in
    • Height: 28 ft 4 in
    • Rotor diameter: 79 ft
    • Can be configured for wheeled or palletized cargo
    • Seats for 55 passengers or litters for 24 patients
    • External cargo hook system rated for 36,000 pounds
    • Capable of conducting air-to-air refueling


    • Three General Electric T64-GE-416/A turboshaft engines
    • Each engine can produce 4,380 shaft horsepower


    • Maximum range (main fuel; SL; STD day): 700 nautical miles
    • Maximum endurance (main fuel; SL; STD day): 6.6 hours
    • Maximum allowable airspeed: 150 knots


    Not applicable

    Missions and Capabilities:

    • Two primary missions—airborne mine countermeasures (AMCM) and vertical on-board delivery (VOD)
    • AMCM mission includes: mine sweeping, mine neutralization, mine hunting, floating mine destruction, and channel marking.
    • VOD mission includes transporting cargo, supplies, and personnel to/from ships and shore facilities.

    Program Summary:

    • U.S. Navy took delivery of the last of 48 MH-53Es in September 1994; 12 were procured for the Naval Reserve.
    • Three fleet squadrons operate the MH-53E: HM-14 and HM-15 (combined active/reserve AMCM squadrons) and HC-4 (NAS Sigonella, Italy-based VOD squadron).
    • Training conducted in HMT-302.
    • A validation/verification contract was awarded in FY95 for the Global Positioning System/cockpit upgrade integration effort. This program, known as the MH-53E Navigation/Communication System, will meet GPS navigation requirements and will correct a mission navigation system deficiency.
    • Three of four fleet retrofit contracts have been awarded for the T64-GE-419 engine upgrade program. Retrofit of the 419 engines are scheduled to commence in FY97. The 419 engine can produce 5,000 shaft horsepower and will correct a deficiency concerning one-engine-inoperative performance during AMCM operations.
    • Additional H-53 generic modification programs include: the AN/ARC-210, No. 2 engine thermal detector, NVG compatible exterior lighting, tail rotor drive shaft disconnect coupling monitor, integrated mechanical diagnostic system, and a service life extension program.


    External Dimensions

    Main rotor diameter 24.08m        
    Main rotor blade chord 0.76m        
    Tail rotor diameter 6.10m        
    Tail rotor blade chord         
    Distance between rotor centres         
    Wing span         
    Wing aspect ratio         
    Length: overall, rotors turning 30.19m        
    fuselage length 22.35m        
    Width of fuselage 2.69m        
    Height: to top of rotor head 5.32m        
    Overall Height, (tail rotor turning) 8.97m        
    Ground clearance, main rotor, turning         
    Elevator span         
    Width over skids         


    Main rotor blades (each)         
    Tail rotor blades (each)         
    Main rotor disc 455.38m2        
    Tail rotor disc 29.19m2        
    Vertical fin         
    Horizontal tail surfaces         

    Weights and Loadings

    Weight empty 16,482kg        
    Mission fuel load (usable)         
    Maximum useful load (fuel and disposable ordinance)         
    Maximum Take off and landing weight         
    Maximum disc loading         
    Maximum power loading         

    Performance :

    Never -exceed speed (Vne)         
    Maximum level speed at S/L 170 knots        
    Rate of climb at S/L, OEI (25,000lb load) 762m/min        
    Service ceiling @ max continuous power 5,640m        
    Hovering ceiling @ max power:
    Range at S/L with standard fuel, no reserves 1,120nm        
  • MH-53E Sea Dragon

    MH-53J Pave Low III

    Sources and Resources

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    Maintained by Robert Sherman
    Originally created by John Pike
    Updated Thursday, January 07, 1999 6:28:38 PM