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Newspaper Details Defects in Transport Helicopter

March 24, 1986

TUSTIN, Calif. (AP) _ The Pentagon knew in 1983 about defects in the military’s most powerful and expensive helicopter but repairs were not made until last September, and 11 people died in crashes during the interim, according to a report published Sunday.

Crashes and dozens of breakdowns have given the CH-53E Super Stallion the worst safety record of any helicopter used by the Navy or Marines, according to military records cited by the Orange County Register.

″It took too long to fix. It was just not done in a timely manner,″ Marine Maj. John Lemoine, a helicopter safety expert, said at a symposium on naval aviation earlier this month in San Diego. ″And we ended up losing other aircraft ... and men.″

However, Rear Adm. Roger Rich of Naval Air Station North Island near San Diego, asked about the timing of the repairs, said, ″It takes a long time to design a helicopter, so it takes a long time to design a fix, too.

″In my experience, if you fix a problem in an aircraft in two years, you’re doing a pretty good job.″

Super Stallions, which cost $24 million each, are designed to lift heavy loads and can carry up to 55 passengers. The helicopter, manufactured by Sikorsky Aircraft Co. of Stratford, Conn., is equipped with three jet engines and can lift 6 tons.

The craft’s defects were mainly in the tail-rotor drive system, which could cause the Super Stallion to spin out of control without warning, the newspaper reported.

Stan Kruger, the Sikorsky official in charge of the Super Stallion program, declined to be interviewed about specific problems, the Register reported, saying press coverage of the crashes and other safety problems has been one- sided and accusatory.

Military officials declined to comment on the helicopter’s problems, the newspaper said.

Between the time authorities became aware of tail problems in the CH-53E and the time they were fixed, military documents showed Navy and Marine Stallion squadrons suffered 20 of their 26 accidents, damages of $60 million, and casualties of 11 dead and 15 injured, the newspaper said.

Records showed the Super Stallion’s tail problems were caused by the viscous dampers, supports that hold the tail drive in place; and a part called the disconnect coupling, which allows the helicopter’s tail to be folded for storage, the newspaper said.

As of September, all Super Stallions received a stronger disconnect coupling made of aluminum instead of magnesium; more durable viscous dampers; and a thicker, stronger support for the dampers and drive shaft, records show.

Pentagon officials say there has been no subsequent tail problems.

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