Military Pallets, Boxes and Containers – Part 7 Air Despatch

Air Despatch, air drop, heavy drop or aerial delivery, makes use of a range of specialist equipment such as containers and platforms (pallets) to get stores and vehicles directly to the point of need, quickly, from the air, exploiting one of the characteristics of air power, immediacy.

Air despatch, or air dropping stores, is yet another of those subjects where the past is chock full of British military and industrial innovation but the present is hanging on by the skin of its teeth due to continued budget erosion and changing priorities.

Anyway, enough griping, start with an amusing video.

Military Air Drop Bloopers

 

We might all laugh at the amusing incidents in the video but air despatch needs the utmost precision and skill, it can be very dangerous for personnel and equipment, as this video illustrates;

c130 hercules fails a tank drop

 

Those working in the front and back ‘office’ need perfect synchronisation, it is one of the most demanding tasks we might ask of the air and ground crews involved.

UPDATE

This post has been updated a few times in response to some excellent feedback from a number of posters on PPRUNE, Dragartist, Ancient Aviator and VX275, thank you gentlemen

A Short History

There is a rich history of UK air despatch, from Arnhem and the Rhine crossings to Afghanistan with all points in-between but probably the first significant air despatch carried out by the UK (and anyone) was in Iraq during the disastrous 1916 Defence of Kut Al Amara in Iraq by members of 30 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps some some RNAS seaplane pilots. This scratch force also included Henry Aloysius Petre, the founder of the Australian Flying Corps.

WWI Iraq
WWI Iraq

In the first few days of the resupply effort success was patchy, the first package of detonators fell onto enemy lines and the makeshift bags used would often burst. The effort subsequently went on to deliver 13 tonnes of supplies in 140 sorties over a couple of weeks. Stores included food, ammunition, tobacco, fishing nets, wireless set spare parts and even £10,000 in gold and silver coins. Food was generally free dropped but one request was for a millstone, the defenders having discovered a mill where enemy forces had removed the stone. The 70lb millstone could not be free dropped without damage and so a parachute and rig were made at Basrah from old aircraft fabric.

RNAS Iraq 1916
RNAS Iraq 1916

Although the air supply operation did not alter the outcome it marked the first time forces in the field had been re-supplied by air despatch.

Air despatch was used on the Western Front and in the inter war years developed by all the major nations in one form or another, building capabilities in line with parachute assault techniques.

The interwar years saw some development of parachuting in general;

4000 Ft Parachute Descent (1926)

 

In World War II air despatch was used by extensively and for British forces, notably in Burma in support of General Orde Wingate’s Chindit force. Whilst the military effectiveness of the Chindit’s is an ongoing debate what their operations did prove decisively is that ground forces could be sustained by both tactical transportation aircraft operating from austere locations and parachute air delivery.

The Douglas C47 Skytrain (Dakota in RAF service) was the preferred aircraft for air despatch for the allied air forces because it was stable at low level and its handling was not unduly affected by cargo loads being, literally, kicked out of the side door.

No 435 Squadron RCAF Dakota Burma SEAC

 

Fuel, ammunition, food, weapons and medical supplies were regularly dropped using simple ‘free dropping’ or with parachutes and woven basket containers. As the techniques developed the range of cargo expanded, live poultry and pigs were dropped and even eggs. US forces in Burma and India calculated the costs of these operations and whilst air landing was obviously the cheapest, free dropping was not much greater but parachute delivery was nearly $2,000 per tonne, compared with $50 per tonne for air landing.

C47 releases rations near Myitkyina
C47 releases rations near Myitkyina

C47 releases rations near Myitkyina
C47 releases rations near Myitkyina

The image below shows an RAF Dakota acting as both resupply and gunship!

RAF Dakota over Burma
RAF Dakota over Burma

In response to the needs of SOE in occupied Europe and the realisation that D Day would require significant air delivered supplies led to the creation of the Air Despatch Group, Royal Army Service Corps, in April 1944.

Air Despatch RASC
Air Despatch RASC

RASC Air Despatchers went on to support operations in mainland Europe.

Up until this point the containers were fabric bags or various sizes and configurations of wicker baskets

As volumes for air delivery operation in mainland Europe were expected to rise significantly more research and development was directed to the containers used for the delivery of stores by air dropping.

One such item of equipment was the CLE.

CLE’s went through a number of revisions and the MkIII’s were still in service 40 years after the end of WWII. CLE stood for Central Landing Establishment but eventually changed into Container Land Equipment and then Container Light Equipment.

CLE’s went through a number of revisions in size and construction with some specialised units developed for radio equipment for example. Dimensions were similar, 1.7m long and 0.4m diameter.

Their parachutes were colour coded so personnel in the ground could quickly identify their content without having to open them first, an ingenious but simple development.

Red; ammunition

Yellow; medical supplies

Light Blue; food and water

White; general stores

Green; signals equipment

Low powered lamps were used for night drops to aid location.

CLE could be carried in singles or bundles and launched from the side door or underwing racks, the latter a technique often used by the Halifax and Hasting aircraft.

CLE Loading containers on Halifax bomber for Warsaw Air Drop Brindisi Italy 1944
CLE Loading containers on Halifax bomber for Warsaw Air Drop Brindisi Italy 1944

CLE
CLE

CLE Stores Containers
CLE Stores Containers

The famous Welbike had a dedicated CLE

There was a lighting system used on the CLE for identification during night drops consisting of 4 small lamps mounted on a frame and powered by a battery. There were also experiments with smoke generators to highlight containers in the daytime. Most were painted in light colours, such as white, to aid recovery.
The containers provided much needed extra supplies to the lightly equipped Airborne Forces and were used post war, including Op Musketeer.

An oft overlooked but important requirement was the need to rapidly move CLE’s away from the drop zone. One device used was the folding airborne trolley, designed to fit inside a CLE, it was used extensively for both stores and medical evacuation.

CLE Collpaspible Trolley
Folding Airborne Trolley

Toggles were used to allow additional men to pull the trolley

Folding Airborne Medical Trolly

Airborne Trolley 01

There was also a larger version, the Airborne Handcart, used by glider forces.

Dakotas were used extensively for operations in Arnhem and supporting US forces in Bastogne.

U.S. C-47s drop supplies to troops at Bastogne. General Taylor congratulates Gene…HD Stock Footage

 

Although vehicles were mostly air landed in gliders, some air dropping of vehicles did take place, they would be slung underneath the aircraft (Halifax, Lancaster, Hastings etc), making use of the crash pans under each wheel and the parachute developed for the airborne lifeboat. Other heavy items like artillery guns were also delivered using this method.

These were not entirely satisfactory techniques and after the war the ‘Paratechnicon’ was developed, a specially designed vehicle container that was mated with the fuselage of a specially adapted Halifax and dropped at the appropriate point.

It used inflatable ‘balloons’ and 6 or 8 parachutes to control descent. Although it was able to accommodate a payload weighing a little over 2.7 tonnes it was aircraft specific and following a fatal accident where one of the parachutes was caught on the aircraft, it was withdrawn.

The next major advance in air despatch came with the introduction of dedicated cargo aircraft with rear cargo doors and an up-swept tail, rather than modified passenger aircraft or bombers. Aircraft like the C-82 Packet, Fairchild C-123 Provider, Nord Noratlas and Blackburn Beverly for example, although slightly earlier aircraft like the Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar could be used for air despatch if the rear cargo doors were completely removed before flight.

Test of drag chute 'reefing' technique in dropping a 75mm pack howitzer from a C-82 Packet
Test of drag chute 'reefing' technique in dropping a 75mm pack howitzer from a C-82 Packet

C119 Flying Boxcar Airdrop 01

C119 Flying Boxcar Airdrop 02

Heavy Air Drop Tests In Sahara Desert (1959)

1956, of course, saw Operation Musketeer, Suez.

3 PARA secured El Gamil airfield on the 5th November 1956 using 18 Valetta and 7 Hastings aircraft for personnel and 7 Hastings used in the heavy drop role. Although the Medium Stressed Platform was in service it was not cleared for the Bevereley and so the older ‘crash pan’ method had to be used for the 3 PARA vehicles and artillery guns, the crash pans being recovered from a number of museums in an echo of Black Buck many years later.

The introduction of the Blackburn Beverley in 1956 heralded a number of innovations including reversible pitch propellers for short field performance and reverse taxiing and cargo floor rollers but the main one was a large boxy body equipped with hydraulic clam shell doors and ramp. It had a payload of just under 20 tonnes but a very short range so typical air despatch loads would be in the order of 16 tonnes. The cathedral like cargo box was slab sided and large enough to carry large plant vehicles.

Royal Visits (1956)

Relying on gravity and an upward flying angle, loads could me manually extracted with the parachute deploying only when the load was clear of the aircraft. As loads got heavier relying on gravity would not be enough and so parachute aided extraction was developed. This is dangerous because if the parachute deploys and the load gets stuck on the cargo floor there is a danger of causing a fatal stall.

The rear cargo doors and single cargo deck of the Beverly and Argosy provided an opportunity for a step change in heavy equipment delivery.

1 Ton Pack 2

The Boscombe Stressed Platform (BSP) it was developed further into the Stores or Supply Stressed Platform deployed using an extractor parachute after which the main parachute opened.

Supply Stressed Platform
Supply Stressed Platform

Still in service, the MSP is 2.14m wide and 4.88m long, it can accommodate loads between 2.722 tonnes and 8.165 tonnes. They can also be daisy chained.

Medium Stressed Platform (Image Credit - Beverley Association)
Medium Stressed Platform (Image Credit - Beverley Association)

The HSP could be used with stores or vehicles to a maximum weight of just under 16 tonnes for Hercules and 19 tonnes for the Beverley. It was 2.6m wide and 7.5m long.

Heavy Stressed Platform
Heavy Stressed Platform

The demand for higher weights and lower deployment altitudes (to stay below radar cover) meant supporting the platforms was no longer possible with conventional parachutes and a series of innovative sectional parachutes were developed by the G.Q. Parachute Company.

To improve accuracy for heavy loads and as a successor to the Ground Proximity The Ultra Low Level Airdrop (ULLA) was developed at Boscombe for use with the Beverley and C130, similar in operation to the US Low Altitude Parachute Extraction System (LAPES). The ULLA platform was a development of the Stores/Supply Stressed Platform (SSP)

Beverley ULLA
Beverley ULLA

As can be seen in the image above and video below (and the second one from the beginning), the parachutes are fully reefed (or opened) and the aircraft must fly very low, ULLA for example, required 10 feet + or – 5ft.

Military Cargo Drop

 

LAPES and ULLA left service with the USAF and RAF respectively by the end of the nineties, aircraft, equipment and personnel risk, coupled with a reduced demand meant it simply faded away in importance. The video at the head of this post shows a LAPES demonstration at Fort Bragg in which three people died as a result of the load hitting the tail of the C130 as it extracted.

The Medium Stressed Platform is still in service with the RAF but the other containers have been replaced with the Container Delivery System (CDS).

The Blackburn Aerial Delivery System, developed in the late fifties and early sixties in conjunction with the armed forces and GQ Parachutes, was an important milestone because it was an automatic system that allowed the payload to be released with the despatcher at a safe point, i.e. in front of the load. It also paid a great deal of attention to the safety of the aircraft and had a number of design concepts that are still used today.

US forces have made considerable use of air delivery or air despatch with some notable operations including the support of Khe San in Vietnam, Panama, Haiti and Iraq. A good overview is here.

Essential items were air dropped to the Task Force in 1982 from RAF Hercules aircraft and since then RAF Hercules have air dropped supplies for military and humanitarian aid disaster relief, the latest over Mount Sinjar in Iraq.

RAF Air Drops Humanitarian Aid to Mount Sinjar, Iraq for Second Time

Britain's RAF makes second aid drop to Mount Sinjar Iraqis trapped by Isis

Supply drop over Mount Sinjar, Iraq.

Although Air Despatch has a relatively short history in the major military powers such as the UK, France, Russia and the USA it is an enduring requirement to air drop supplies, although heavy drop of equipment and vehicles, less so, at least for the UK.

Post 2010 SDSR 47 Air Despatch Squadron RLC (47 AD Sqn) are now part of 13 Air Assault Support Regiment RLC (13 AASR), located at RAF Brize Norton.

JADTEU‘s primary role is to conduct operational trials and evaluation to develop the delivery by air of manpower, machines and materiel on behalf of sponsors, read more here

Techniques and Equipment

Whether it is deploying relatively small door bundles to dropping an entire aircraft of humanitarian supplies there are many factors to consider.

Flying low reduces dispersion and increases accuracy, good for ground personnel that have to recover the stores, but it puts the aircraft at greater risk from ground fire and might in some cases alert enemy forces that ground forces are in the area.

Night drops improve aircraft survivability and reduce detection of the stores but can also be hazardous to those on the ground.

Different factors also apply if the drop is for humanitarian assistance, risk of the loads creating casualties as stores may drop onto people rushing to recover the food or water, for example. This happened in Timor when the Royal Australian Air Force conducted a HADR drop, a child lost their leg after a parachute load hit him. An air drop of supplies to the Yazdi refugees on Mt Sinjar had to be suspended because of risk of injury to them, difficult choices being made by the aircrew.

Stores and equipment hanging around in the air whilst they serenely descend means they are exposed to enemy detection and fire so the general objective is to get them on the ground as soon as possible, this also improves accuracy and reduces dispersion. However, some loads may be less resistant to higher velocity impact and so may have to use low velocity techniques.

Some stores can even be free dropped, without the aid of a parachute.

Heavy Drop

A catch all term for heavy loads such as vehicles, artillery guns, small boats and ammunition pallets.

The main piece of equipment used for heavy dropping (apart from the parachute deployment system and parachute(s)) is a pre stressed platform. Of the Supply, Medium and Heavy Stressed platforms described in the history section, only the 8 tonne payload Medium Stressed Platform remains in service

Medium Stressed Platform for air dropping vehicles
Medium Stressed Platform for air dropping vehicles

CVR(T) Scorpion on a Medium Stressed Platform
CVR(T) Scorpion on a Medium Stressed Platform (MSP)

CVR(T) Scorpion on a Medium Stressed Platform
CVR(T) Scorpion on a Medium Stressed Platform

MSP Image Credit 16 PARA RAOC Site)
MSP Image Credit 16 PARA RAOC Site)

MSP Image Credit 16 PARA RAOC Site)
MSP Image Credit 16 PARA RAOC Site)

Medium Stressed Platform with two Light Guns
Medium Stressed Platform with two Light Guns

Even though it is a fifties design, the MSP is still a very capable piece of equipment with a number of advantages over the newer Type V, especially in its ability to load multiple items on a single platform, two light guns or light gun and Pinzgauer for example. This obviously reduces the number of aircraft required for a given force size.

The MSP is not compatible with the floor of the C130J or A400, both of which use the Dash 4a Cargo Handling System from AAR Corp. With the C130K now out of service the Medium Stressed Platform has bee rendered obsolete. Unless the UK purchases a compatible platform, it is out of the vehicle heavy drop business.

The US DoD contracted with Triton Composites in 2003 to develop a composite platform called the Triton Composite Airdrop Platform (TCAP).

The current Type V metal platform used for low velocity airdrop (LVAD) is expensive because of its heavy and complex modular design. Triton Systems Inc. proposes to develop a lightweight, low cost, environmentally-friendly composite airdrop platform (CAP)to replace both the current Type V and DRAS platforms. The approach is to engineer advanced thermoplastic composite (TPC) materials based on Triton’s extensive experience in the transition of metallic structures to cost-effective, structurally-efficientpolymer matrix composites. Triton will explore a range of composite platform designs, ranging from inexpensive, single-use, throwaway platforms, to platforms that will provide a greater level of durability and reusability than the current Type V. Low costfiber, matrix, and core materials, and affordable manufacturing methods will be employed. Triton has teamed up with a current Type V and DRAS supplier to develop this future generation composite airdrop platform. The developed composite airdrop platforms can be used to improve mission effectiveness for Future Combat System LVAD missions. These platforms would also benefit humanitarian relief work involving airdrop of food and other supplies. Meeting thedifficult impact and durability requirements would allow the validated composite constructions to be applied to other missions requiring lightweight, damage-tolerant materials.

It does seem to have progressed beyond development though.

The current market leader for heavy drop platforms if the Type V from Capewell, available in a number of configurations and dimensions. It was developed to replace the A/E 29H-1 (LAPES) and the Type II (LVAD) airdrop platform.

It comes in a variety of sizes and capacities from 8ft long to 32ft and can carry up to 19 tonnes although ramp limits might limit the payload (16 tonne single load, 25 tonnes multiple load on the A400M for example)

JATE Testing at Brize Norton
JATE Testing at Brize Norton

airdrop-afghanistan

A C-17 Globemaster III airdrops a pallet over a Hawaiian drop zone on Aug. 1, 2014. The C-17, from the 535th Airlift Squadron, provides airlift and airdrop capabilities to the Pacific theater. The airdrop mission is part of the routine training for the aircrew and logistics personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Stephany Richards)

Cargo Cam POV: Humvee Air Drop In Alaska | AiirSource

Heavy Heavy Drop!

Capewell also make a smaller platform called the Multi Drop Platform that can carry a 1.36 tonne payload.

Others include the Zodiac DRAS platform and the Aeronet PD8/PD9 platforms, the latter of which was recently used by the French in their operations in Mali.

The Russians have an interesting approach to heavy drop, rocket assisted parachutes and dropping with the crew inside!

Russian Airborne Forces In Action – Amazing Footage

 

Although things might look a bit threadbare for the UK in the vehicle heavy drop department at the minute, boats are another matter entirely.

In 2010 the MoD placed a contract with Babcock for the Small Boat Aerial Delivery System (SBADS).

Babcock is currently delivering 186 units of its innovative aerial drop system, SBADS, to the MoD. The system has been designed by Babcock’s Integrated Technology team to deliver small rigid and inflatable hulled boats safely to the ocean from military transport aircraft. It was selected by the MoD after competitive trials, in which it out-performed other air-drop system solutions.

The modular system features a novel deceleration mechanism that can be adjusted to control deceleration rates on impact with the water, to avoid damage to the payload on landing. A unique, patented, twin V-form flexible sheet provides low deceleration and hence low landing forces initially, and then higher deceleration to prevent payload submersion.

The system is modular to handle larger payloads, or to enable a variety of payloads to be dropped, from life rafts and medical equipment containers to boats over 12ft long with outboard motors fitted ready for action. The modules are designed to be compatible with the Hercules and Airbus A400M or other aircraft equipped with the standard 108 inch cargo handling system, and could easily be modified to suit other aircraft. The modules can be fitted with floats to allow recovery and re-use during training exercises, or can be configured to sink during operations.

Babcock has developed a manufacturing process for the SBADS using a range of purpose designed welding jigs and fixtures that ‘standardises’ production, to enable rapid delivery while maintaining quality. 186 SBADS units are to be delivered to the MoD by February 2011. Approximately 90 have been delivered to date.

Also in service with the UK, Norway and the USA is the Airborne Systems Maritime Craft Aerial Delivery System (MCADS) and Small Boat Modular Platform (SBMP) that uses the PRIBAD and PURIBAD platforms although these may be replaced with SBADS.

Atlas K loader and Hard Hulled Riverine Boat
Atlas K loader and Pacific 24 on SBADS

SBADS
SBADS

PURIBAD
PURIBAD

Door Bundles

Smaller items can be packed and despatched from the aircraft side doors as paras exit but of course, they have to fit. They usually weigh between 30kg and 300kg.

A technique called ‘South East Container Despatch’ is also used to deliver small bundles from the side door of a C130 that uses a small plywood ramp intruding into the slipstream.

One on the ground they are de-rigged and the stores moved.

Container Delivery System (CDS)

Container Delivery System (CDS) is the most common system, used by pretty much everyone that air drops supplies

It uses a lightweight 48″ square plywood ‘skidboard’ onto which is mounted a layer or two of cardboard honeycomb energy absorbing material, other sizes are available but the 48″ square skidboard is compatible with the widely used Capewell Center Vertical Restraint System (CVRS).

The load or load bag is rigged to the baseboard and the parachute attached. This is usually a time consuming break bulk process, transferring from one land pallet to the skidboard, as mentioned in the previous post, the worlds of land, sea and air logistics have yet to fully converge.

47 Air Despatch Squadron RAF Brize Norton Exterior
47 Air Despatch Squadron RAF Brize Norton Exterior

47 Air Despatch Squadron RAF Brize Norton
47 Air Despatch Squadron RAF Brize Norton. 15 tonne travelling beam crane and payload preparation bay

CDS Honeycombe

CDS Honeycomb

CDS Bundles being prepared at RAF Cyprus by RLC personnel for 47 AD Squadron
CDS Bundles being prepared at RAF Cyprus by RLC personnel for 47 AD Squadron

CDS rigging in Kandahar Afghanistan by 47 AD Sqn RLC personnel in 2010
CDS rigging in Kandahar Afghanistan by 47 AD Sqn RLC personnel in 2010

After rigging and checking they are transferred to the aircraft

UK aid being loaded on to a RAF Hercules C130 at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire
UK aid being loaded on to a RAF Hercules C130 at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire

UK aid being loaded on to a RAF Hercules C130 at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire
UK aid being loaded on to a RAF Hercules C130 at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire

CDS for Mt Sinjar

47 Air Despatch
47 Air Despatch

Dropping (in single or two rows) is initiated by cutting a webbing retaining strap or using wireless release mechanism and the loads simply fall out of the back as the aircraft pitches up and a static line deploys the parachute. A number of variations exist that use different packing materials and for different loads. Small loads can be deployed as door bundles and CDS bundles are generally no more than 1 tonne but can include quad bikes, small boats and light engineering plant.

Personnel on the ground then recover the stores, most of the time the pallet will land the right way up, but not always. Because the skid boards do not have forklift slots, the job on the ground cannot be assisted with mechanical handling equipment, unfortunately

CDS on theground

Night Time Airdrop Resupply in Afghanistan
Night Time Airdrop Resupply in Afghanistan

Here are skid boards, with energy dissipation pads sandwiched between an over-turned bundle of fuel barrels . (DLA Aviation Photo)
Here are skid boards, with energy dissipation pads sandwiched between an over-turned bundle of fuel barrels . (DLA Aviation Photo)

A parachute extracted delivery method for Container Delivery System (CDS) bundles has been developed and deployed the USA.

Accuracy and speed of delivery is said to be much improved with dispersion reduced by two thirds.

Free Drop

If the stores are robust they can be free dropped like this example from the RAF in Ethiopia, Operation BUSHEL in the early eighties.

Operation BUSHELL Ethiopia 1983/4
Operation BUSHEL Ethiopia 1985

Op BUSHEL 2

Op BUSHEL Ethiopia
Op BUSHEL Ethiopia

The RAF delivered over 14,000 tonnes of food aid using this method, a method pioneered in the 1972 Nepal famine relief operations. In recognition, 47 Air Despatch Squadron Royal Corps of Transport won the Wilkinson Sword of Peace.

In 1993 the RAF tested a systems called Snowdrop from GR Woodford Co that combined two sachets into a single pack, one sachet containing a dehydrated stew and the other, a vitamin and mineral rich fruit drink. These were packed 24 to a carton and when the carton entered the aircraft slipstream it would break up and allow the sachets to fall to the ground. Read the patent here

The US Operation Provide Hope in Bosnia in 1993 depleted war stocks of USAF air drop equipment and cost  in excess of $30m, none of the equipment was recovered.

In response, a system called Tri-wall Aerial Delivery System (TRIADS) was developed.

TRIADS is very simply, a cardboard box that is launched into the aircrafts slipstream at high altitude where a tether rips open the box, allowing the individual food or water packets to fall to the ground. These packets were initially MRE’s but have since evolved to the Humanitarian Daily Ration or HDR.

Humanitarian Daily Ration
Humanitarian Daily Ration

An airman prepares containers for humanitarian daily rations Oct. 4 at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. The containers were placed on board a C-17 Globemaster III and airdropped Oct. 7 over eastern Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. (USAF Photo by Staff Sgt. Jeremy Lock)
An airman prepares containers for humanitarian daily rations Oct. 4 at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. The containers were placed on board a C-17 Globemaster III and airdropped Oct. 7 over eastern Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. (USAF Photo by Staff Sgt. Jeremy Lock)

U.S. Air Force people build Tri-Wall Aerial Delivery System (TRIADS) that will hold the Humanitarian Daily Rations. C-17 Globemaster IIIs deliver the HDRs in Support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The C-17s airdrop the HDRs to Afghan refugees who have massed inside the borders of Afghanistan. C-17s can carry more than 35,000 HDR's packaged in 84 TRIAD boxes, measuring 80 inches tall and 48 by 48 inches square, each filled with 420 HDRs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeremy T. Lock)
U.S. Air Force people build Tri-Wall Aerial Delivery System (TRIADS) that will hold the Humanitarian Daily Rations. C-17 Globemaster IIIs deliver the HDRs in Support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The C-17s airdrop the HDRs to Afghan refugees who have massed inside the borders of Afghanistan. C-17s can carry more than 35,000 HDR's packaged in 84 TRIAD boxes, measuring 80 inches tall and 48 by 48 inches square, each filled with 420 HDRs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeremy T. Lock)

Aerial port people at Ramstein Air Base, Germany use a K-loader to load containers with humanitarian daily rations onboard a C-17 Globemaster III on Oct. 11. The humanitarian supplies are airdropped over Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. (USAF Photo by Staff Sgt. Jocelyn M. Broussard)
Aerial port people at Ramstein Air Base, Germany use a K-loader to load containers with humanitarian daily rations onboard a C-17 Globemaster III on Oct. 11. The humanitarian supplies are airdropped over Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. (USAF Photo by Staff Sgt. Jocelyn M. Broussard)

Soldiers from the 5th Quartermasters Company, Rhine Ordinance Barracks, Germany, help load a C-17 transport plane with Tri-Wall Aerial Delivery (TRIAD) containers full of humanitarian daily rations Oct. 10 at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. The C-17 Globemaster III, from Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., is supporitng Operation Enduring Freedom with humanitarian relief airdrops ove Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Soldiers from the 5th Quartermasters Company, Rhine Ordinance Barracks, Germany, help load a C-17 transport plane with Tri-Wall Aerial Delivery (TRIAD) containers full of humanitarian daily rations Oct. 10 at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. The C-17 Globemaster III, from Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., is supporitng Operation Enduring Freedom with humanitarian relief airdrops ove Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo)

TRIADS Afghanistan
TRIADS Afghanistan

TRIADS was used to deliver 2.5 million HDR’s during initial operations in Afghanistan in 2001 for Operation Enduring Freedom. Because they are deployed at high altitude the aircraft is not placed under the same risk as for low level free drop methods.

Each C-17 can deliver up to 14,000 HDR’s using TRIADS.

There is still some risk for people on the ground, not least from the plywood skidboard, which makes its use unlikely in some situations

The latest US development is Humanitarian Operations Packaged Essentials, or HOPE, package. Each contains a water pouch and energy bar. A single C-17 could drop 125,000 HOPE packages in a single pass and dispenses with the cardboard box completely.

As part of the US  Low Cost Aerial Delivery System (LCADS) the  U.S. Army Logistics Innovation Agency (LIA) developed the  Freedrop Packaging Concept Project (FPCP) for use in Afghanistan.

Ultra Low Level Extraction

Although not strictly air dropping, a transport aircraft can land, slow to taxi speeds and simply roll cargo pallets or vehicles off the ramp. This minimises time on the ground and doesn’t need anything but the most basic of rigging. The cargo, usually on 463L pallets or equivalent, is simply picked up by ground forces and the aircraft flies off.

A pallet is combat off-loaded from a C-17 Globemaster III June 20 at Tarin Kowt Airfield, Afghanistan. The 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron is the first unit to conduct a combat off-load in theater. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Shawn Weismiller)
A pallet is combat off-loaded from a C-17 Globemaster III June 20 at Tarin Kowt Airfield, Afghanistan. The 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron is the first unit to conduct a combat off-load in theater. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Shawn Weismiller)

Airborne Warfare: C-27J Engine Running Offload: 463L Pallets

If no runway exists the aircraft can still fly at very low altitude (less than 10m) and offload cargo pallets, bundles or vehicles using a number of low or zero altitude extraction systems in which the cargo is dragged out of the aircraft by drogue chutes or arrestor wires.

Vertical descent speeds are very low but the cargo will have the same horizontal speed as the aircraft which will need retarding.

Little used now due to decreasing demand and risk issues.

Precision

To improve survivability aircraft are forced to drop at night and from higher altitudes and speeds, this results in dramatically reduced accuracy and dispersion of loads. Using GPS guidance and parafoil type parachutes loads can also be launched some distance from the target point.

Various US and NATO studies looked at the issue of precision airdrop and combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have accelerated developments.

The SPADES system from Dutch Space used a steerable parafoil, the Firefly. It could deliver a 1,000kg payload within 50m of the target from stand off distances and high altitude with the Dutch MoD being the launch customer.

This Cassidian (Airbus Defence, I think) as is the Paralander. The German Luftwaffe have used the Paralander in Afghanistan where it was cleared for use on the C-160. A Paralander can deliver up to 1,000kg loads 26 nautical miles (50km) from the launch point.

Atair Aerospace have the Onyx range, the Canadian company MMIST have the Sherpa and Snow Goose

SPADES
SPADES

ParaLander_air_490_318

MMIST Sherpa Precision Aerial Delivery System

MMIST SnowGoose Cargo UAV

Altair Onyx
Altair Onyx

The well known US Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPADS) is a family of equipment to deliver precision air drop delivery including Firefly steerable parachutes from Airborne Systems and others.

Payloads go from 90kg to 4,500kg

View from Camera Mounted on JPADS (Joint Precision Airdrop System)

Joint Precision Air Drop System (JPADS) Afghanistan

JPADS Promotional Video

Air Force JPADS - GPS guided cargo airdrop in Afghanistan

Yuma 10K JPADS HMMWV.mp4

Looking at these videos what is interesting is that some of the designs use a parafoil parachute to get to within the drop zone after which it is collapsed (or de-reefed) and a conventional round parachute deployed for the final journey to earth. The last video in the group also shows a vehicle being dropped using JPADS.

Less well known but equally critical is the JPAD Mission Planning software which is run on a standard ruggedised Panasonic Toughbook laptop and is used to collate data about the payload, weather and other variables to ensure the correct drop point is selected.

The PADS system from QinetiQ (and now Capewell) is with standard freefall parachutes to hugely improve accuracy and reduce dispersion. To verify weather conditions a drop sonde is used that relays atmospheric information back to the mission planning software which uses the data to calculate the optimum release point.

For a detailed overview of PADS, click here

The video below shows an RAF Hercules dropping supplies in Afghanistan, CDS and PADS in action. The second video is an overview from QinetiQ

Afghan air drop to front line

PADS | QinetiQ North America

The RAF video also shows one of my hobby horses, the lack of containerisation and materials handling vehicles meaning that the 20 personnel had to work all night to recover 60 tonnes of rations, that is for another post.

A recent innovation with the JPAD’s precision air drop system is using a small UAV launched from the cargo aircraft to precision drop the sonde. The USAF have carried out a number of proof of concept trials with the Silver Fox UAV. The UAV flies ahead of the cargo aircraft so that it does not have to fly over the drop zone as it does when manually dropping the sonde.

No amount of precision can help though, if the ground conditions are such that enemy forces have access to the drop zones, as this recent video from the Middle East shows

أسلحة و ذخائر ألقتها الطائرات الأمريكية و سقطت في مناطق سيطرة الدولة الإسلامية بكوباني

Low Cost

Whilst the Container Delivery System (CDS) is robust and effective it is expensive so unless the equipment can be can be returned it is a significant overhead and in many cases, the packaging will cost more than the contents.

In Afghanistan, the threat of IED’s and operations in remote locations meant aerial supply went through a renaissance but if overland logistics was difficult and dangerous going forward (the reason for air dropping) then it would be just as difficult and dangerous going in reverse. The reverse supply chain for CDS equipment also meant there would end up being a significant and expensive stock holding of parachutes, bags and securing items at remote forward locations. These locations had enough on their plate without managing CDS equipment and so the need arose for a much cheaper, single use system.

LCADS gets the components needed for low altitude air dropping to about $100 by using low cost materials such as woven polypropylene parachutes and rigging. Not having to recover the parachute and other materials simplifies logistics planning a great deal.

Out of LCADS came the Low Cost Low Altitude (LCLA) system.

The Low-Cost, Low-Altitude (LCLA) aerial resupply programme required system that allowed supplies of up to 75kg to be dropped from low altitude low speed aircraft (fixed wing or rotary).

LCLA bundles are small and designed to be handled without mechanical handling equipment, between 110kg and 250kg and can be dropped from smaller aircraft like a CASA 212.

US forces used the LCAD/LCLA system extensively in Afghanistan.

LCLA Parachute testimonies

LCLA AirDrop - Recover low cost low altitude air drops | AiirSource

Air drop of water on COP

Low Cost Low Altitude (LCLA) Airdrop in High Def - GoPro -

US Special Forces LCLA Airdrop

 

All types of equipment for all types of requirement, high, low, medium, low velocity, high velocity. cheap and cheerful, heavy and light or high precision.

 

Further Reading

The Resupply Effort at Dien Bien Phu

Using the Air Force to Conduct Humanitarian Assistance in a Hostile Environment

16 Parachute Heavy Drop Company RAOC

 

The rest of the series…

Part 1 – Introduction and General Principles

Part 2 – Pallets

Part 3 – Containers and Flatracks

Part 4 – Container and Flatrack Handling

Part 5 – Boxes

Part 6 – Air Transport Pallets and Containers

Part 7 – Air Despatch

Part 8 – Issues and Solutions for Pallets, Containers and Boxes

Part 9 – Trucks and Trailers

Part 10 – More Thoughts  on Trucks and Trailers

About The Author

Think Defence hopes to start sensible conversations about UK defence issues, no agenda or no campaign but there might be one or two posts on containers, bridges and mexeflotes!

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Baldginga

Chucking a Pinzgauer out of a Herc.

Chris

I’m pretty sure there was a TV documentary about Boscombe Down a decade or so back where one of the test flights was part of the trials to develop the airdrop procedures from C-130; in the flight that was filmed the drop was a vehicle (LR I think) but the cameras concentrated on the effect for the pilot, not the drama of the payload departing. As the load rolled back towards the ramp the trim of the aircraft changed to violently nose up, requiring a lot of stick pushing on the part of the pilot; as the load fell off the ramp the aircraft pitched nose down, not helped by the pilot pushing at the stick obviously. Lightning reactions required to maintain a steady path. On the flight that was filmed the technicians had rigged a device to measure stick force through the pilot’s arms, and it measured something like a 50kg kick as the load shot backwards.

In the C27 clip about running offload, looks like its what happens when a load is inadequately secured…

Don’t forget Operation Little Vittles started by US Air Force pilot Gail Halvorsen during the Berlin Airlift. He started doing his own little drops of chocolate bars and bags of sweets suspended by pocket handkerchief parachutes on his approach to Templehof airfield out of his planes window to children waiting under the approach path. He encouraged other pilots to do the same and when the story hit the news children from all over the US posted him there own gifts of sweets to him for him and the other pilots to drop to the children of Berlin.

tweckyspat

Op Little Vittles ? WTF ? Surely it was really called Enduring Tooth Decay ? or Op Lardass Fury? I think the brits have similar low level ‘ despatch’ missions in their history, like chucking hexamine blocks for kids in the Balkans to chase, thinking them to be sweeties.

Engineer Tom

Does anyone know whether they have tried airdropping ISO containers, I figure this would be pushing the bounds of what fits in the back of a C17 , but would be a step towards being able to deploy some fancy ISO based kit rapidly, particularly thinking about humanitarian missions.

S O

GPS-aided cargo gliders were revived up to prototype stage about 10-15 years ago as well.
http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/aircraft/systems/ridgwing.htm

paul g

Always thought this was a good idea, no parachutes = low cost and nothing to collect up afterwards

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3-QviWLhmI&index=30&list=FLoGTwYKyor2c1STNodQ7ecw

@paulg
A very interesting product for it simplicity and just generally very ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ you can drop 30kg at 10m/s impact speed with the standard unit but I wonder how big could you go with such an idea.
http://www.dropmaster.com/

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Obsvr

Heavens, no A22 containers! Where do the SAS get their belts from these days?

Mercator

@Monkey @Paul G
“why didn’t anyone else think of this”. Possibly because they did.

Google “helibox”. A simple cardboard box that uses the four flaps on the top spinning around at slightly inclined angles to slow it down.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2009-04-24/an-raaf-ap3-c-maritime-patrol-aircraft-conducts/1661784

It’s been a staple of all RAAF airlift and MPA for as long as I can remember – at least 25 years. We used to always deploy with a few folded up in our kit somewhere. Aircrew can easily assemble it. My crew dropped 2 magnums of champagne in a single box to a RAN Task Grp once (on exercise) to simulate “spare parts”. You more or less just boot it out the side door of P3. It floats long enough for a RIB to grab it. The champagne survived.

I’m pretty sure some of the (fixed wing) civil SAR organisations/contractors in Australia also use it.

Copterbox vs Helibox. Chicken or Egg?

Mercator

Buggar. I didn’t realise just how close they came to hitting the tail. I don’t recall them quite so fondly now…

http://images.defence.gov.au/20080127

wf

@Obsvr: indeed, chest rigs from here on :-)

wpDiscuz
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