Reserve Marine squadron uses GPS parachutes in Iraq

8 Sep 2004 | Cpl. Paul Leicht

Reservists with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 452, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, are putting a new cargo parachute system to the test during combat operations here.

Recently the New York-based squadron successfully delivered food and supplies to Marines at Camp Korean Village during a combat assault support mission Sept. 7, featuring a Sherpa global-positioning parachute delivery system.

"Doing this type of mission in a combat environment is what we are here for," said Atlanta native Lt.Col. Bradley S. James, commanding officer, VMGR-452. "The tactical capability of the KC-130 gives us a unique ability to even do this at night with (night vision goggles). This mission also took a lot of coordination between us and the supply Marines on the ground."

With a total load weighing more than 23,000 pounds, the VMGR-452 KC-130T reached the camp in less than one hour. However, preparations for the complex mission took a substantial amount of time.

"This is my first time preparing a mission like this and it took me about two to three hours of planning for each hour of flight time," said Sgt. Eric J. Bynum, navigator, VMGR-452, and a native of Waxahachie, Texas. "For a short flight like this one it took me about 8 hours to plan the drop since we are actually performing two drops at two different altitudes."

Dropped at a lower altitude and at high speed, the first batch of supplies was dropped using conventional military parachutes.

"We fly lower during a standard drop so we can ensure accurate delivery, but we have to maintain a higher rate of speed because we are more vulnerable (to enemy attack) being lower to the ground," said Bynum. "Before we drop the supplies using the Sherpas we will climb to a higher, safer altitude."

Making its debut during a similar drop Aug. 9, also above Camp Korean Village, the commercially-produced Sherpa precision-guided parachute system uses a Global Positioning System computer and control lines to steer itself from an altitude of up to five miles down to within a few meters of the designated target area on the ground, said Staff Sgt. Tammy A. Belleville, 1st Air Delivery Platoon jumpmaster, Combat Service Support Battalion 7, 1st Force Service Support Group.

"Basically, the Sherpa is an oversized 900 square foot parachute canopy attached to a servomotor," said the 40-year-old Oceanside, Calif. native. "The GPS computer calculates everything from winds, direction of flight, target coordinates, altitude and other information to steer the load to the designated delivery point on the deck."

The servomotor inside the Sherpa unit steers the control lines that direct the parachute and the load to the designated target point on the ground, said Belleville.

From an altitude of more than 10,000 feet, the Sherpas can guide their loads to other CSSB Marines on the deck below in five to 10 minutes, depending on the conditions, said Belleville.

With the supplies safely on the ground, the Marines aboard the KC-130T returned to their base here with another successful mission behind them.

"The bottom line is the Marines out there at Korean Village have their supplies and that makes us feel good knowing we can deliver what they need quickly under combat conditions," said James.