Defense Dept. Grounds 181 Helicopters With Defect

Times Staff Writer

The Pentagon has ordered that 181 military helicopters--including about 50 stationed at the Tustin Marine Corps Helicopter Air Station and the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station--be grounded for 10 weeks to six months because of defective parts that could cause their rotor blades to snap off during flight, a Navy spokesman said Friday.

The 181 Sea Stallion CH-53A and CH-53D helicopters represent about 48% of the copters assigned to the military, said Lt. Max Allen, a spokesman for Navy headquarters in Washington.

Recent inspections of the helicopters at a military base in North Island, near San Diego, revealed that “locknuts” connecting rotor blades to the helicopters were too small, causing “excessive slippage” that could cause the blades to snap off in flight, Allen said.


Grounded During Inspection

Marine spokeswoman Staff Sgt. Vicki Conkel said the helicopters will be grounded for the period of time it takes to inspect and possibly repair or replace the defective rotor components.

“We anticipate that the majority of the helicopters will be back in service within 10 weeks,” Allen said.

Allen said the groundings are not related to three fatal crashes involving CH-53D helicopters since March, 1984, which claimed the lives of 50 U.S. and South Korean servicemen. Military officials and engineers with the manufacturer, Sikorsky Aircraft Co. of Stratford, Conn., blame transmission problems for the crashes.

Marty Moore, a Sikorsky executive, said the CH-53A and CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters have been out of production for about five years. The CH-53D is considered a “workhorse” helicopter because it can carry up to 38 servicemen in full combat gear.

The CH-53D was replaced in 1981 by the Super Stallion CH-53E.

Allen said the grounding of the 181 Sea Stallions should not affect military operations. “We have enough helicopters in our inventory to handle things,” he said.