The Sikorsky CH-53 life extension project was recently completed as the last helicopter left the AMU (Aerial Maintenance Unit) and returned to the mother base. “A financial breathing room”
Nearly a decade has passed since the first CH-53 (Yas’ur) helicopter entered the workshop of the Aerial Maintenance Unit as part of “Yas’ur 2025” project, aimed at extending the helicopters’ operational lifespan to reach 2025 at the minimum.
Last week the project was completed: The last helicopter left the workshop and returned to its mother base, equipped with advanced systems and renewed structure, just like all other CH-53s in the IAF.
“This is the end of a long journey and the excitement is great: The first helicopters arrived to the unit almost 10 years ago and today we give back a much safer, more developed formation”, says Colonel Shimon, commander of the Aerial Maintenance Unit. “We had excellent partners from various units from the technical division and together we reached an admirable achievement. The ability of the IAF to make a plan and carry it out by itself evokes great prides”.
The most obvious advantage of renovating aircraft on “home turf” is economical. “A new CH-53 sells for 150 million USD, when the process of extending its lifespan costs around 2 million USD per helicopter. If we were not able to upgrade the helicopters by ourselves we would have needed to pay much more – either by approaching civilian companies to execute the renovation or by purchasing new aircraft”, says Lt. Col. Meir, Head of Aircraft Section in AMU. “We provided the force with financial breathing room, during which it will test new helicopters to replace the CH-53. In any event, it is not going to happen in the next five years”. Colonel Shimon, unit commander, adds that, “when done in the unit’s workshop, the cost of the labor is between half to one third in comparison to any external alternative”.
Better, Faster, Stronger
As noted, the lifespan extending project began in 2006, when the crews focused on a few helicopters at a time. The duration of the renovation work began with several years per helicopter and was later reduced to less than a year. The engineers and mechanics worked tirelessly to upgrade the engines, the dynamic systems and many other systems regarding communications, navigating, self-defense and flight control. Tens of thousands of wires were installed in the helicopters and cracks were repaired.
The ability to extend helicopters’ lifespan and enhance their systems is of great importance to the IAF. As technologies and platforms continue to evolve, prices increase as well. The IAF needs to keep its aircraft in service for years pass the manufacturer’s original forecast, while maintaining safety and operational relevance. In fact, when many forces around the world stop using their old aircraft, the IAF keeps flying its own for many years and with optimal operational efficiency.
“When you calculate the amount of helicopters you need ready at any moment and the lifespan designed by the manufacturer, you realize you need to buy around 100 new helicopters each decade”, says Brig. Gen. Ran Bashevitz, Head of IAF Materiel Directorate. “We do not regularly buy platforms in these amounts. So how do we still answer operational demands? We extend the lifespan of our aircraft”.
Alongside the “Yas’ur 2025” project, an enhancement session for the F-16 C/D “Barak” was also completed recently, providing the aircraft with “advanced software capabilities, similar to those of its younger brother, the F-16I”. The enhancement process of the C-130 “Hercules” is also expected to be completed soon, keeping the old plane in the air for at least 10 more years.