Written by Spc. Tracy Weeden
101st Combat Aviation Brigade
Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan – Task Force Shadow’s CH-47 Chinooks from B Company executed their first low cost, low altitude aerial delivery resupply to troops at a combat outpost in Afghanistan July 26th.
A low cost, low altitude airdrop is the delivery of supplies rigged in bundles with single-use, recycled parachutes dropped from an aircraft at a low altitude.
This first-time airdrop was to certify the Pathfinders on the ground and the aircrews were capable of conducting these procedures.
“It was a huge success because not only were we able to certify and verify the ground portion of it, but we did the same with the aircrew by verifying their stabilization and qualifications,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 John Nikolao, TF Shadow standardization instructor pilot.The pilots used one of two common aerial delivery communication methods to acquire their target ground location.
Pathfinders on the ground guided the aircraft into the designated drop zone using the verbal initiated release system, said Nikolao. They gave the pilots steering commands by radio to establish them on an inbound course depending on the threat and wind.
The alternate method is using VS-17 marker panels, highly visible two foot by six foot long panels, strategically placed to mark the drop zone, said Capt. Jill Rahon, B Co., TF Shadow Chinook pilot.
Certifying that they could do this safely and accurately was important to be able to do this type of resupply in the future.
“The whole idea is to be able to provide support to the COP’s [combat outpost] or FOB’s [forward operating base] that are difficult to get to, or are in a high threat area,” said Nikolao. “Instead of the aircrew being engaged while taking off and landing, they can drop these bundles.”
Airdrop missions can protect the safety of the troops on ground.
They prevent ground forces from the risk of going on convoys to retrieve the needed materiel because we can drop them inside the perimeter of the compound, said Nikolao.
Not only do airdrops prevent the need for convoys, but they lower the number of troops required for the mission.
“Lower altitudes significantly increase accuracy which permit the use of much smaller drop zones and reduce the force size needed to secure the area,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 David E. Fabunan, TF Strike jumpmaster.
The accuracy of an airdrop depends on the cooperation of the Pathfinders, jumpmaster and aircrew as a team.
TF Shadow’s goal was to drop the bundles within a 30 to 50 foot diameter target, said Nikolao. Normally, an airdrop within 50 meters of the target is acceptable, but they prefer to be more accurate for safety measures.
Before dropping the bundle, the aircraft and jumpmaster did a test drop with a weighted ammunition can, attached to an identifying streamer certifying the target area was reached.
For training, a test drop is made to confirm communications and accuracy, said Fabunan. The Pathfinder calling in the aircraft will use this to observe the direction, speed and altitude of the drop, so they may adjust the flight path accordingly.
The low cost, low altitude aerial delivery system can be utilized for either emergency or routine resupply missions to smaller COP’s or FOB’s.
Air drops are used to resupply water, field medical supplies, emergency food rations and ammunition, said Nikolao. An emergency request can usually be delivered in a minimum of three hours depending on the location.
The aircraft does not have to slow down to landing speeds in order to maneuver an airdrop, decreasing the danger of the resupply mission for the aircrew.
Air drops allow the aircraft to come in quickly, at a low altitude and deliver bundles by means of recycled parachutes, said Nikolao.
The disposable parachutes used for airdrops cost less because they are made of recycled material.
A recycled parachute cost approximately $150.00 compared to $500.00, the price of a normal parachute, said Fabunan. Low cost, low altitude parachutes are ideal for operations in remote areas where recovering a parachute is difficult due to safety and operational reasons.
The Pathfinders must predict how the load will travel depending on the wind, speed and altitude, advising the pilots when and where to drop the load.
These parachutes open within two seconds which is just enough to help dissipate the impact and minimize the forward throw, said Nikolao.
When a bundle leaves the aircraft, it is traveling at a speed equal to the aircraft, continuing to move in the direction of flight until gravity and the parachute take effect- this is considered forward throw.
“The bundles are cushioned with energy dissipating material such as honeycomb, felt or cellulose wadding depending on the load requirements,” said Fabunan. “A sufficient amount is placed in between layers to prevent damage.”
After conducting this certification, TF Shadow now has a safe and efficient alternative to conduct resupply requests.
“This will allow TF Shadow to be more flexible in supporting ground forces at outer COP’s and FOB’s,” said Rahon.
TF Shadow’s first low cost, low altitude airdrop performed with TF Strike was a success, giving them a safer way of delivering supplies to areas where they may be in risk while landing. They are now more versatile and able to support areas they may not have been able to support before.