Designed as a heavy assault transport helicopter for the Marine Corps, the initial Sikorsky Sea Stallion CH-53 Military Helicopter version of the Sikorsky S-65 was basically a considerably enlarged version of the S-61, but with a conventional fuselage instead of a boat hull. The dynamic parts – gearboxes, transmission and rotors – were based on those of the CH-54 (S-64) but with the main rotor having a titanium hub and folding blades. The type entered service with the Marines as the CH-53A Seas Stallion in September 1966. It could carry cargo internally and under slung, and the main rotors and tail folded for carrier operations.
The Air Force initially ordered eight for their Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service, designated HH-53B, they later ordered an increased power variant as the HH-53C – both were named the Super Jolly Green Giant. In addition to a hoist, they featured provision for additional drop tanks and a probe for refueling form a -130 Hercules tanker.
In January 1967 four CH-53A Sea Stallions were deployed to Vietnam where they were used for the recovery tasks. By May they had already recovered 100 helicopters and their success was sealed. However, they could also be used for troop carrying, with the ability to accommodate 37 fully armed troops.
The Marines started taking deliver of 126 of the improved CH-53D from March 1969. With increased power, these were capable of lifting greater loads. In 1972 production of a specialized RH-53D commenced for the Navy. This was based on the standard CH-53 Sea Stallion Military Helicopter but up-engined and designed specifically for mine sweeping.
Although it initially looks the same, the CH-53E is a substantially reworked design. This variant is powered by three engines compared with the twin engines of the earlier models. The CH-53E Super Stallion was ordered by both the Marine Corps and the Navy. The Marines required it for the heavy lift capability to move equipment and recover downed aircraft, in addition to moving troops. It was a Ch-53E that rescued F-16 pilot Scott O’Grady after he was shot down in Bosnia in June 1995. The Navy CH-53Es are used in the combat support role. Their duties involve predeploying to a location from which they can fly urgently required freight to passing carriers. In addition the Navy operated the MH-53E Sea Dragon in the mine clearance role to replace the earlier RH-53Ds. They have enlarged sponsons containing additional fuel. These roughly triple the amount of the internal fuel, and increase the time on station.
The Air Force ordered 32 MH-53J Pave Low III, with extremely advanced navigation, terrain following radar and FLIR; they are used by Special Forces for long-range, low-level penetration into enemy territory to insert, extract or resupply SF teams. The type is armed with machine guns and is protected with armor plus flares and chaff. In 1999 the first MH-53M Pave Low IV was delivered to the Air Force. The further modified MH-53Js again have improved avionics and defensive aids.