U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground tests cutting edge parachute system
YUMA — In a combat theater, ground troops in the most isolated areas depend on airlifts for resupply. In the worst conditions, time can be a matter of life or death.
U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) is home to all manner of parachute testing, with spacious and instrumented ranges large enough to accommodate even the world’s largest cargo parachutes.
YPG has long been on the cutting edge of developmental and operational testing of new airdrop capabilities, including the Rapid Rigging De-Rigging Airdrop System (RRDAS), which promises to get Soldiers out of a drop zone and into the fight with the equipment they need faster than ever.
Conventional cargo payloads are typically cushioned with a honeycomb-like cardboard material between the vehicle or other heavy item and the steel palette that carries it from an aircraft to the ground. Even with good cargo parachutes and a perfect landing, multiple layers of the honeycomb will collapse upon impact with the ground. RRDAS, however, dramatically reduces the amount of honeycomb necessary to dissipate the force of impact with 10 reusable airbag modules. The self-inflating airbags can be utilized as low as 750 feet above ground level, and carry loads from between 5,000 and 22,000 pounds.
“When it flies through the air, ambient air pressurizes all of the fabric-based airbags,” said Maj. Matthew Rohe, Assistant Product Manager for Cargo Aerial Delivery at the U.S. Army Program Executive Office Combat Support and Combat Service Support. “When it hits the ground, the airbag modules cushion the payload, so we don’t need as much honeycomb as in the current design.”
The reduced use of honeycomb should lower rigging time by 25%, but testers are particularly excited about reducing de-rigging time by 40%, which gets Soldiers out of harm’s way faster.
“The end state is that it will reduce the de-rigging time by about two and a half hours primarily through the reduction of the use of honeycomb so Soldiers on the drop zone won’t have to use axes, shovels, and picks,” said David Emond, operations manager for Product Manager Force Sustainment Systems. “Currently, once the vehicle crushes the honeycomb Soldiers have to cut out all the honeycomb around the vehicle’s tires to be able to drive it off.”
The system also boasts features to ensure an airdropped vehicle will land upright.
“The system has deployable outriggers on it,” said Rohe. “If it is a high center of gravity load with a chance of tipping over when it hits the ground, these outriggers kick out and will stop it from flipping over.”
Though developmental testing of RRDAS is scheduled to end later this year and full fielding of the system to troops is expected in Fiscal Year 2025, intermittent testing at YPG based on feedback from operational testing at Fort Bragg, North Carolina should continue for two years after that.
“We will be able to increase the load of the payload and the length of the platform so we can drop heavier and longer items,” said Rohe. “We’ll be testing on and off at Yuma for several years to come.”
YPG is the Army’s primary personnel and cargo parachute tester, with decades of institutional knowledge in both rigging and evaluating these complex airdrop systems, as well as coordinating multiple sorties safely. The post’s nearly 2,000 square miles of restricted airspace and favorable weather make it an ideal location for air drop testing.
“We always use YPG because of the test assets available,” said Emond. “It is safer and cheaper to conduct developmental testing here: it is the most reliable and dependable place to get the aircraft that we need to fly test missions.”