PEARL HARBOR (HawaiiNewsNow) – In light of the military helicopter crash in Kaneohe, Hawaii News Now took a closer look at the CH-53D "Sea Stallion" - what it's used for and when and where it operates. For that, we headed out to the Pacific Aviation museum at Pearl Harbor.
By all accounts, the Marine Corps' Sea Stallion helicopter is a very reliable, heavy lift aircraft. It transports equipment, supplies, and troops during ship-to-shore operations.
Sikorsky Aircraft manufactures the 25 million dollar helicopter. It's got two engines but is designed to fly with one, if necessary. It's 88 feet long, works in adverse weather, day and night, and can seat up to 55 troops.
"This is an aircraft that flies extremely well and has very few maintenance problems on it," says former attack helicopter pilot, Ken DeHoff. "What concerns everyone is that there was a mayday call made, and then, there was the report of the explosion."
DeHoff heads the Pacific Aviation museum and has been following news of the accident. He says the helicopter is equipped with sensors that indicate problems in the engine, transmission, and other moving parts. "The explosion really concerns me because the explosion gives you the thought that something else may have failed after whatever the initial alert was."
Kaneohe Marine Corp Air Station's Sea Stallion fleet has had at least one issue in the past. Hawaii News Now did some digging, and back in 2000, a staff sergeant discovered a leak in the return manifold. He pulled it off and found the indicator button wouldn't work. Without the indicator, the flight crew would never know if a problem developed in the hydraulic system - a problem that could have been deadly if the system shutdown mid-flight. Kaneohe MCAS found similar problems in its entire fleet, so it grounded all 31 helicopters until the faulty indicators were replaced.
As "this" investigation continues, DeHoff emphasizes that being a helicopter pilot is dangerous business. 40 years ago this month, he was shot down in Vietnam's Mekong Delta. "Everytime a crew gets in a helicopter and they pull pitch, they come off the ground, there's a silent prayer that's issued. There's a hope that it all works well." He also points out that American military pilots are some of the best-trained pilots in the world.