At 99 feet long, the MH-53E Sea Dragon is the largest helicopter in the United States military. But a new report by Bloomberg shows that it might also be the most unsafe to fly, hindered by faulty design and increasing mechanical failures.
The Sea Dragon suffers “6.35 major failures per 100,000 flight hours” according the report, which is about three times the overall naval aviation average. Bloomberg paints a picture of pilots, both Marine and Navy, dreading to fly an outdated beast with electrical wires hanging out of it while also needing to get their flight hours up.
Sea Dragons, which once had a sunset date of 2005, are scheduled to fly until 2025. Nearly identical choppers in other branches of the military, like the CH-53E Super Stallion, are scheduled to fly until 2029. It’s design is dated, with lots of analog instruments. Lethal mid-flight problems have run the gamut from faulty ball bearings at the base of the main rotor to hazardous exhaust backflow in the engines.
In a report undertaken with outside consulting firm Booz Hamilton, the Army was able to discover that the only 27 percent of the their Super Stallions were deemed “mission ready.” Repairs on these helicopters were often attempted in Iraq and Afghanistan, where there often isn’t enough time for a thorough inspection. The 2013 sequester also played a role, halving the Marines’ budget on repairs. Whatever the cause, it seems clear that the Sea Dragon are going to keep flying for a while, risky or not.