Special Operations: Superior Precision Parachutes

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May 5, 2010:  U.S. Army Special Forces have acquired a new steerable parachute (MC-6), that is more accurate, durable, lighter,  and easier to repair than the older MC-1. The MC-6, like much Special Forces gear, has a civilian background. Special Forces noted the success of steerable parachutes used by smoke jumpers (parachuting firefighters) in the Western United States, and adopted the technology the parachutes used. In the last three years, the U.S. Army has bought 27,000 MC-6s, and deliveries continue. Steerable parachutes are used by Special Forces operators who have to land on a specific piece of ground. Smoke jumpers have the same problem, as they usually jump into forested areas where there are few open spots where you can land safely. The MC-6 weighs 11.8 kg (26 pounds), nine percent less than the old MC-1.

While rangers and Special Forces are the most frequent user of the MC-6, regular paratroopers sometimes train to use the steerable chute as well. The army also has new non (or much less) steerable parachute, the T-11, for its paratroopers. So far the army has ordered 45,000 of the T-11 ATPS (Advanced Tactical Parachute System), which is replacing the half century old T-10 parachute. The new and improved model is urgently needed because, in the last half century, paratroopers, and their equipment, have gotten heavier. The current T-10 was designed to handle a maximum weight of 300 pounds (a paratrooper and his equipment.) In practice, the average weight is now closer to 400 pounds. This meant that the troops were hitting the ground faster and harder using the T-10, resulting in more injuries. Since World War II, the average injury rate for mass parachute drops has been 1.5 percent, but all that extra muscle and gear has pushed it to over two percent. The MC-6 can also carry more weight, and lands more softly.

The basic problem was that the venerable T-10 was not able to handle larger and heavier (it's all muscle, folks) paratroopers and the more numerous bits of equipment they jump with. The 51 pound T-11 (main chute and backup) can bring over 400 pounds of paratrooper and equipment to the ground at 16 feet per second. The 44 pound T-10 could bring 300 pounds down at 23 feet per second. When the T-10 was dealing with more weight, it came down faster, causing more injuries. The T-11, when deployed has a diameter 14 percent greater than that of the T-10, with 28 percent more surface area. The T-11 harness is more reliable and comfortable. Operational testing of the T-11 has been underway for four years, and the new chute will have completely replaced the T-10 in four years.

 


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