By Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Jung
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 3, 2009 - Villagers in a remote area of northern Afghanistan recently were the latest recipients of an Air Force high-altitude airdrop mission that drops tons of supplies to those in need. The Georgia Air National Guard 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron that flew the Aug. 26 mission deployed from the 158th Airlift Squadron, Savannah, Ga., and delivered eight bundles of humanitarian aid from a C-130H Hercules.
The bundles, weighing about 4.1 tons, were packaged in a container delivery system, which assured the bundles and their cargo of food, water, clothes and blankets arrived intact. Waiting on the ground were coalition forces who helped distribute the aid to villagers.
The delivery system uses the aircraft's deck angle to move the containers across roller conveyors on their way out the cargo ramp and door, said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ricky Córdova, loadmaster on the mission, and resident of Charlotte, N.C.
"When the bundles are out of the aircraft, parachutes inflate and lower them to the ground," he explained. "As each bundle clears the cargo ramp, the rigged high-velocity, low-cost aerial delivery system parachutes deploy and quickly deliver the load to the people waiting on the ground."
Corrugated paper cushion pads, known as honeycombs, on the bottom of each bundle help them absorb the shock when they land, Cordova said.
Also aiding in the safe delivery of the humanitarian supplies is an advanced aircraft computer system aboard the C-130H, operated by the navigator, said Air Force Lt. Col. Tommy Atkinson, aircraft commander and a 19-year veteran pilot.
"Once the aircraft is over the drop zone, the co-pilot activates the jump signal switch on command of the navigator and a green light ignites, signalling the loadmaster to manually assist the [container delivery system] gate cut," Atkinson said. The computer program accounts for the parachutes' drift, the weight of the load, wind velocity and other variables to ensure the container ends up in the right place, he said.
"These airdrop missions are challenging, and we enjoy that challenge," the Merritt Island, Fla., resident said. "What may be lost on some people is how complicated these missions really are, because we've been doing them flawlessly for so long."
Air Force Capt. John Mims, navigator on the mission, said even though the members of the squadron make airdrops look easy, a tremendous amount of work goes into every detail.
"The squadron is made up of a multitude of career fields, including intelligence personnel, loadmasters, crew chiefs, navigators and pilots from all over the United States, all of which are absolutely crucial to the airdrop missions being completed," Mims said.
The squadron has been dropping an average of 5 to 8 tons of supplies and equipment per mission and will continue to do so as long as necessary, officials said.
Airdrops are a safe and reliable method for shipping vital supplies into locations where there are no roads, the terrain is too mountainous, the loads are too heavy for helicopters or where the insurgent threat is too great.
(Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Jung serves in the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing public affairs office.)