Automatic steerable parachute used for the first time on a wildfire

(Last Updated On: September 5, 2015)

For the first time, an automatic steerable parachute has been used to deliver cargo on a wildfire. Below is a description from the Bear Lake Fire in Montana:

The Bear Lake Fire was honored to be the first wildfire incident to use the microflight technology from the USDA Forest Service’s Missoula Technology and Development Center. The auto guided microflight technology is part of the Joint Precision Aerial Delivery System (JPADS) and was developed by the military 5 years ago. This new technology allows for cargo drops from altitudes of 5,000 ft above the drop zone (the altitude for a standard cargo drop is approx. 250 ft above the drop zone). The parachute is guided by a GPS unit that adjusts for winds, turning the cargo as needed and dropping it within 50-100 meters of the drop site.

Wikipedia provides more details about the system:

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“History
US Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) was the primary developer for JPADS, which meets several requirements: increased ground accuracy, standoff delivery, increased air carrier survivability, and improved effectiveness/assessment feedback regarding airdrop mission operations. The United States Army and Air Force began jointly developing this system in 1993. The Air Force made its first operational/combat use of the system in Afghanistan in 2006.

Operation
The steerable parachute or parafoil is called a “decelerator,” and gives the JPADS system directional control throughout its descent by means of decelerator steering lines attached to the Airborne Guidance Unit (AGU). They create drag on either side of the decelerator, which turns the parachute, thus achieving directional control.

The Airborne Guidance Unit (AGU) contains a GPS, a battery pack, and the guidance, navigation and control (GN&C) software package. It also houses the hardware required to operate the steering lines. The AGU obtains its position prior to exiting the aircraft, and continues to calculate its position via the GPS throughout descent.

The Mission Planner software gives the aircrew the ability to plan the mission, in flight if necessary, as well as steer the aircraft to its Computed Air Release Point (CARP), where the load is released.”

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The Bear Lake Fire has burned about 6,400 acres 12 miles southeast of Wisdom, Montana. The Incident Commander is calling it 75 percent contained.