AFRL completes successful precision airdrop flight test

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – Researchers with the Air Force Research Laboratory Aerospace Systems Directorate reached new heights during a precision airdrop (PAD) flight test, Nov. 16-19, 2020, in Yuma, Arizona.

This flight test studied AFRL’s precision airdrop design with optimized cargo delivery system (CDS) bundles. Although CDS bundles can vary from 501 to 2,200 pounds, the ones used for this test were more than 1,900 pounds. Airdrops of four, six and 16 bundles were successfully tested. In every case, the bundles were divided evenly between legacy and optimized bundles so researchers could analyze the performance difference.

“The main goal was to demonstrate the capabilities of the Optimized High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) technology, which includes probabilistic airdrop planner algorithms and variable transition altitude in wireless activation device,” said Daniel Schreiter, the PAD Program Manager. “We ultimately measured the performance of bundles using legacy versus optimized modes.”

“The Air Force has focused on operational, ballistic cargo airdrops under 3,000 feet above ground level in order to get deliveries on the drop zone,” Schreiter said. “In this precision airdrop flagship project, AFRL worked with Air Mobility Command (AMC), United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), and the Army to develop a ballistic cargo HALO capability. We’re using innovations from AFRL and its partners to improve the accuracy and precision of these drops.”

The results of this test showcase the effectiveness of AFRL’s airdrop apparatus and method, which allows packages to be dropped from a high altitude while utilizing existing hardware in an innovative way.

“It is always interesting to work on new technology and to get a chance to do field demonstrations using systems comparable to an operational user,” Schreiter said. “The intent is to give the Air Force another cargo delivery tool, and, if successful, our technology will be part of an ongoing improvement cycle.”

AFRL’s precision airdrop innovation provides the warfighter with cutting-edge technology to achieve the Air Force mission in challenging environments. The flight test team will continue to enhance airdrop methods to meet future needs.

“We’re very excited about this program within the Aerospace Systems Directorate,” said Maj. Samuel Meyer, the deputy chief for the directorate’s Power and Control Division. “The opportunity to support AMC, USTRANSCOM, and our joint partner – the U.S. Army – really demonstrates the reach and impact of AFRL. The capability to put airdropped supplies precisely where they are needed and when they are needed can’t be overstated. This program not only does that, but by utilizing a HALO approach we’re able to protect aircrews from potential ground fire within a contested environment by enabling cargo release from higher altitudes. The PAD team is doing a phenomenal job developing this technology and we’re excited to see what comes next from it.”

“This project is an excellent example of how DOD collaboration can successfully develop and demonstrate critical enabling capabilities to support joint warfighting operations,” added Lou Bernstein, the program director for research, development, test and evaluation at USTRANSCOM. “We’re proud to support this joint initiative designed to sustain isolated and on-the-move warfighters operating in contested environments.”