Marines recall Super Stallions from aircraft boneyard
Jul 10, 2006 : 11:55 am ET

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. -- Accidents, aging and the demands of war have obliged the Marine Corps to bring back a number of its warhorses from retirement, with a handful of Super Stallion helicopters recalled to active duty after a decade in mothballs.

At least seven refurbished CH-53E Super Stallion heavy-lift helicopters will be brought back on line with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464 at New River Air Station.

The first aircraft is already back, marking the beginning of a multiyear plan to save money and bolster a fleet stretched thin by combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We have lost aircraft for various reasons, everything from crashes to actual war to just getting old," said Maj. Warren Bair, the CH-53 program manager at the NAVAIR Depot at Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station in Havelock, where aircraft are repaired. "That has decreased the raw number of aircraft available to the Marine Corps.

"(This program) adds a raw number of aircraft to the bottom line that can get back into the mix. That will relieve the pressure on the fleet."

A collision during training off the coast of Djibouti in February cost the squadron two aircraft, as well as the lives of eight Marines and two airmen.

The replacement helicopters have been in storage for a decade at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, among about 5,000 military aircraft in the Arizona Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center.

After all that time, each required a substantial overhaul to be airworthy. Depot personnel spent 10 months on the aircraft, putting in 25,343 work hours to make hundreds of modifications, upgrades and repairs.

Work ranged from updating navigation equipment to replacing old rubber gaskets that had been scorched by the desert heat.

"Things don't rot, but they bake," Bair said.

Nevertheless, at $5 million for retrofitting, it's far less expensive than buying a new Super Stallion for $27 million.

With one helicopter back in service, two more are currently being restored at the Cherry Point Depot, with the intent of delivering them to a Marine Corps squadron sometime within the year, Bair said.

Four more Super Stallions will be refurbished in pairs during the next few years, in hopes that all seven additional aircraft will be in the fleet by 2009.

The one that's finished still faces a couple of weeks worth of checks to make sure its systems are operational and it is mission-ready.

"When we are done with that, she will be ready to fly any mission," Bair said.

1st Lt. Thomas Mannino, the assistant maintenance officer for HMH-464, said the aircraft received a thorough review before the squadron ever saw it.

"It basically got completely torn down to bare metal and inspected for structural damage," Mannino said. "The majority of the airframe has been reworked by (the depot). They did all that work, painted it, test flew it and then delivered it to us."

Ellie