U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona is home to all manner of parachute testing, with spacious and instrumented ranges large enough to accommodate even the largest cargo parachutes.
The post has long been on the cutting edge of new airdrop capabilities. Recently, YPG wrapped up evaluations on a variety of air delivery systems after three years of developmental testing.
The evaluations were part of the Autonomous Aerial Insertion and Resupply into Dense Urban Complex Terrain (AAIRDUCT) joint capability technology demonstration. This demonstration involved the precision delivery of payloads of between 50 and 2,400 pounds to units in urban environments. YPG’s extensive evaluations of the system included utilizing an existing mock urban complex as a new drop zone.
“The intent of all of the technologies is for small unit resupply,” said Jose Ramirez, test officer. “It consists of four different top-level technologies: the JPADS, the HAARS, the MADS, and a payload placement system that is tangential to JPADS.”
JPADS, or Joint Precision Aerial Delivery System, has been tested at YPG for the better part of 20 years. JPADS traditionally uses GPS technology and onboard computers to steer payloads within meters of their target, even when dropped from miles above. In contrast, AAIRDUCT testing was using a camera and vision-based navigation to operate in GPS-denied environments. The High Altitude Aerial Resupply System (HAARS) can deliver a similar capability more rapidly by dropping a payload at the same height, but in free fall much longer.
“The HAARS is a low-cost drogue-fall system,” said Ramirez. “When the payload comes out of the aircraft, it is under a small parachute just to stabilize the system. This system has a pre-set pressure sensor set at whatever altitude we want to activate the main parachute.”
The Multi-Use Aerial Dispersion System (MADS) is a disposable one-time use parachute that can be utilized to drop humanitarian aid packages or leaflets into an urban environment with minimal risk to the civilian population. All three systems were tested extensively to ensure they can drop with precision even in an environment where GPS service is degraded or entirely denied.
The drop zone for the demonstration was located within YPG’s state-of-the-art Joint Experimentation Range Complex. Constructed in the early 2000s, the JERC served as a test site for technologies to counter the destructive capabilities of roadside bombs that American Soldiers encountered in Iraq. The highly instrumented complex emulates the urban environment and includes hundreds of buildings, dozens of miles of paved roads with bridges and overpasses, telephone poles and power lines. To utilize the area as a drop zone took months of surveying work and safety assessments.
“This was the perfect spot to simulate an expeditionary unit operating in a dense urban environment,” said Ramirez. “Having hazards like power lines and buildings allowed us to test the hazard avoidance and maneuverability of the system.”
The regular availability of a wide variety of aircraft at YPG, from UH-60 helicopters to large cargo planes such as the C-130 and C27J was also important to testers.
“On top of aircraft availability, it would be very hard to get the actual range space and air space that we use here,” said Ramirez. “We also have the simulated expeditionary area very similar to where this could be used in the field.”
YPG is the Army’s primary personnel and cargo parachute tester, with heavily instrumented ranges and decades of institutional knowledge in rigging and evaluating these complex airdrop systems. YPG’s nearly 2,000 square miles of restricted airspace and favorable weather make it an ideal location for air drop testing.
“They chose YPG because of the experience of our test officers and riggers, and also because of our facilities and air space,” said Carlos Anaya, team lead. “Our workforce is very flexible and able to work together well with the trial and error that comes with developmental tests.”