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New GPS-guided air drops aid aircrew accuracy

by Master Sgt. Thomas Gloeckle
124th Wing, Idaho Air National Guard

3/21/2007 - GOWEN FIELD, Boise, Idaho (AFNEWS) -- Mobility aircrews now have a new tool which uses Global Positioning System, or GPS, to help them deliver cargo more accurately and safely in deployed theaters of operation.

The Joint Precision Air Drop System, or JPADS, allows airdrops to be conducted from higher altitudes with improved accuracy, which allows deployed aircrews to remain out of harm's way while delivering important supplies and equipment to the troops that need them, said John Hayes of the Air Mobility Command JPADS mobile training team at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

Mr. Hayes and a cadre of other instructors were here recently to teach the new system to C-130 Hercules aircrews from the Idaho Air National Guard's 189th Airlift Squadron and aircrews from Kentucky, Georgia and New York.

All four units are set to deploy sometime this year, so getting them together for training like this is exactly what the MTT was set up for, Hayes said.

This "just in time" training gives the aircrews a chance to familiarize themselves at home as opposed to learning a new system in a potentially dangerous environment.

"No one wants to train in a combat environment," Hayes said. "This mobile training is a great short-term solution until formal schools can be established."

The JPADS is a computer-based system that automatically adjusts a parachute to deliver cargo to a precise location on the ground based on the wind and other factors. According to Hayes, standard container deliver system bundles dropped from altitudes as high as 25,000 feet can be delivered to an area as small as the rough area of a football field.

What's more, aircrews will no longer have to fly a few hundred feet off the ground in order to ensure accuracy of the bundles, which often puts the crew in harm's way from small arms fire and surface-to-air missiles.

The JPADS will do for logistics what the Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM, has done for weapons employment, Mr. Hayes said.

The JPADS is controlled by the assistance of a mission planner laptop with precision airdrop applications, meteorology data gathering kit and GPS.

"The thrust of the MTT is to give mobility aircrews the exposure they need so they have all the tools at their disposal in the AOR," Mr. Hayes said.

Tech. Sgt. Chase Carrier, a C-130 loadmaster for the 189th AS who doubled as the drop zone officer, assessed the success of the drops using the JPADS for much of the weeklong training.

"When you consider that this was our first time using this system and the fact that the drops were made from about 9,000 feet instead of the usual 700 to 800 feet, the accuracy of this system is great," Sergeant Carrier said.

While there is additional preparation involved and more coordination required between the loadmaster and navigator, keeping the aircrews safer is worth the extra effort and initial learning curve, Sergeant Carrier said.

"Without having to drop down to lower levels to make those air drops, our risks go way, way down," he said. 

(Courtesy of 124th Wing, Idaho Air Guard)

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