Airmen complete important GPS airdrop mission in Afghanistan

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. David Salanitri
  • U.S. Air Forces Central Public Affairs
Airmen from the 772nd Expeditionary Airlift Squadron successfully completed an airdrop mission to Combat Outpost Herrera in east Afghanistan, using GPS-guided bundles to deliver the supplies Nov. 27.

The C-130 Hercules, operated by its crew from the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, airdropped 18,000 pounds of fuel to Oklahoma Army National Guard Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 279th Infantry, using the Joint Precision Airdrop System while high above the reach of enemy weapons.

JPADS is a dynamic tool in the world of resupply. Once a bundle is launched from the aircraft, it is directed by an Autonomous Guidance Unit. While floating down to Earth, the AGU guides the bundle to a programmed point of impact -- much like joint direct attack munitions.

"The bundles, when released from the aircraft at a previously calculated location, guide themselves to the drop zone using mechanical servos attached to the parachute's canopy risers," said Maj. Justin Brumley, the aircraft commander for this mission. "It flies its profile to the PI, negotiating terrain and other obstacles -- much the same way a parachutist exacts a free-fall jump."

Before the mission can launch, the bundles must be built and loaded on to the aircraft.

"Our mission begins with building pallets and rigging parachutes," said Army Spc. Clifton Walker, a 10th Sustainment Brigade parachute rigger. Our job "continues onto the aircraft where we work with Air Force joint aircraft inspectors to ensure the parachutes are rigged properly in the aircraft. We feel responsible for the loads until they hit the ground."

Combat Outpost Herrera sits 8,700 feet above sea level. Looking out from that location, the post is surrounded by mountains, trees and local national villages. Accuracy for an airdrop is imperative as the threats of cliffs and civilians are near.

"I was real skeptical (of JPADS) at first," said Army Capt. Brandon Kimbrel, the COP Herrera commander. "After the drop, I was real impressed. We didn't see or hear the 'bird' at all. All of a sudden, we looked up and saw parachutes above us."

Dropped at 17,000 feet, the AGU navigated the bundles to the center of the drop zone.

"There was one bundle off in the distance," said Kimbrel. "It was way off and we figured it was gone. Then all of a sudden it circled around and landed smack in the middle of the DZ. It was pretty cool to see."

As the weather gets colder and snowfall begins at remote bases in high elevation areas, convoys become more dangerous and less reliable.

"We're surrounded by mountains -- the snow sets in. The helicopter passes are impassible by helicopter and the roads could be clogged up," said Army Staff Sgt. Denton Poe, 1st platoon sergeant here. "Utilizing airdrops with the GPS-guided parachutes allows us that avenue to use in case we can't get resupplied by helicopters or vehicles by the road, which is a typical case come winter here."

For Herrera, the fuel that was airdropped in will survive the base through the winter.

"Without that unique tool that we have (JPADS), some of the stuff could come to a screeching halt here," said Poe. "Everything here runs on fuel -- generators, heaters, vehicles. Without that fuel, a lot of stuff would come to a stop. Fuel is a live line."

(Senior Airman Patrick McKenna contributed to this article)