MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, ID --
Arid, hot air sits heavy over the mountains. Soon, the autumn winds will sweep the lands to chase away the heat, but before they can, the chop of helicopter rotor blades can be heard through the valleys. Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 461 has been here before, but never with the latest innovation in Marine Corps aviation: the CH-53K King Stallion.
This is the first fleet exercise the Marine Corps’ King Stallion deployed to conduct, marking a step forward for the Marine Corps.
“The CH-53K is more powerful, safer and an easier-to-maintain helicopter,” said Lt. Col. Adam Horne, commanding officer of HMH-461. “That’ll allow each wing commander more capacity to sustain the Marine Air-Ground Task Force in an austere environment.”
With three times the lift capability of its predecessor, the CH-53K is the new heavy-lift solution for the naval force.
“The benefits are endless,” said Staff Sgt. James Ganieany, airframes division chief for HMH-461. “We practice our external [lifts] with a Light Armored Vehicle, and we never have power issues. HMH-461 had its first operational flight for the CH-53K in April 2022, and have been training with it ever since."
“Routinely training with an LAV for an external load, to me, is absolute mind boggling,” said Staff Sgt. Dakota Schneider, a crew chief instructor with Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron (MAWTS) 1. “It’s got power for days; you can do anything you want.”
Mountain Home, Idaho, was chosen as the first deployment for training for the King Stallion because it provided a new climate and terrain features distinct from North Carolina, HMH-461’s home state.
“We have a lot of environmental flying that we don’t get to do in New River, [North Carolina]” said Ganieany. “Canyons, mountains, desert, it’s a complete 180 of what we’re used to flying in.”
The CH-53K can fly at higher altitudes, for longer distances and in hotter conditions than the CH-53E. HMH-461 used these qualities at Mountain Home to assist in future CH-53K production and employment.
The Marine Corps continues its long legacy of innovation with this test of the CH-53K King Stallion. The lessons learned by HMH-461 during the deployment for training support the Marine Corps’ modernization efforts.