As with so much military hardware, the Sea Stallion was the result of a request from the Department of Defense, which had noticed a hole that needed filling. In this case, the early 1960s marked a time when the Pentagon needed to replace Sikorsky’s S-56, and the Bureau of Naval Weapons laid out its requirements for one such aircraft in March 1962. As Sikorsky details: “a ship based helicopter able to lift an 8,000 pounds (3630 kg) payload over a radius of 100 nm (115 miles, 185 km) at a speed of 150 knots (172 mph, 278 km/h).”
The resulting helicopter (after the Ling Tempco Vought that was initially selected for the role was deemed unfitting) was another Sikorsky model, the S-65, known also as the CH-53 Sea Stallion. It made its debut in the skies in October 1964, and served throughout the Vietnam War. Able to transport two-dozen stretchers, up to 38 infantrymen and their equipment, or the heaviest equipment like a Howitzer (depending on how the aircraft was set up), its General Electric turboshafts could propel it at 125 mph, at a weight of 50,000 pounds and a range of 540 nautical miles.
In 1972, the variant RH-53D was first used, and the YCH-53E’s trials followed in 1974. These more advanced versions of the Stallion expanded into roles such as clearing mines. Despite its cache, though, the Stallion’s history is marred by tragic accidents.