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Army to field new long-range parachute

Jun. 23, 2014 - 04:50PM   |  
A paratrooper flies the RA-1 parachute system during an operational test at Fort Bragg, N.C. The new parachute will allow troops to jump from as high as 35,000 feet.
A paratrooper flies the RA-1 parachute system during an operational test at Fort Bragg, N.C. The new parachute will allow troops to jump from as high as 35,000 feet. (Army)
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The Army will field a new long-range infiltration parachute to special-mission units, also known as Special Forces troops, allowing them to jump from as high as 35,000 feet, wear armor and steer to an objective with “pinpoint accuracy,” said Maj. Ernesto Perez, the Army’s assistant product manager for airdrop systems.

From 24,000 feet up, for instance, a soldier using the new chute could fly to an objective roughly 47 kilometers from his transport aircraft, making him and the transport harder to detect, said Doug Graham, a spokesman for the program office for soldier equipment.

At $10,000 each, Military Free Fall Advanced Ram-Air Parachute System, or RA-1, will replace the Army’s maneuverable canopy parachute, the MC-4, said Perez.

“The main users are going to be small units,” said Dan Shedd, a mechanical engineer at the Army’s Natick labs in Massachusetts. “You don’t want a lot of these parachutes in the air, with all that maneuverability and with a lot less experience, flying into each other. ”

The semi-elliptical shape of the RA-1’s canopy resembles the wing of a civilian paraglider, which uses thermal air currents for lift. The RA-1’s wing surface is the key to its glide performance. The MC-4 has fewer, larger cells and more drag.

It has the reliability of a conventional parachute, Shedd said. The RA-1’s reserve chute allows the maneuverability to fly to a target.

Parachute harnesses can cut circulation in the legs, making them go numb — which can make for tricky landings. RA-1’s has a seat that puts the weight on a soldier’s posterior so his legs won’t fall asleep.

“Jumper comfort was the biggest factor,” Perez said. “We wanted to make sure that when they hit the ground, they’re ready to fight.”

The parachute can carry up to 450 pounds, which means soldiers can bring more gear to the fight. A soldier inserted far from a resupply can take more along.

“You’re able to jump with body armor, so everything a soldier wasn’t able to jump with, especially in a freefall situation, you’re able to do now,” Perez said.

Program officials say they considered the jumper’s exit from the aircraft, the rate of decent, the glide ratio, the impact on the ground and the impact of the parachute opening.

“This one was substantially better to the older MC-4 parachute,” Perez said, and better than others tested.

Army officials said the parachute is due to be fielded in the third quarter of this year to special mission units but would not say whether conventional troops would get it. The Army still needs to develop equipment to allow troops to better endure the jump: more sophisticated navigation systems, longer-lasting oxygen systems and insulated clothing, said Shedd.

“This will be our Ferrari,” Perez said. “They already have the ability to do these operations, but we want to give them a complete kit.”

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