On the count of four...
Test paratroopers require different skills than peers

by Randy Murray

Military free-fall
Photos courtesy of ABNSOTD

Military free-fall qualified
test paratroopers with the Airborne and Special Operations Test Directorate dive from the cargo ramp of a C-27J joint cargo aircraft during a multi­service operational test and evaluation of the new aircraft.

“Being a test paratrooper requires a different set of skills than a regular paratrooper,” said Capt. Tanesha Love, Headquarters and Headquarters Company commander for the Airborne and Special Operations Test Directorate. “We’re jumping different types of aircraft and parachute systems before they’re jumped by regular paratroopers. We have to protect the item being tested but with jumper safety as our number one priority.”

Love explained the ABNSOTD is often tasked to certify new and foreign aircraft and aircraft used by other branches of the military for personnel, equipment and aerial resupply operations.

Jumping from new aircraft like the UH-72 light utility helicopter or the C-27J joint cargo aircraft requires test paratroopers to first complete new equipment training as well as in-depth, sustained airborne training.

Test paratroopers not only train to avoid hazards in the air and on the ground and how to react during emergency landings; Love said their training often includes deliberate water landings and how to recover parachutes and paratroopers following a tree landing.

Test paratroopers
Test paratroopers with the Airborne and Special Operations Test Directorate exit the doors of a C-27J joint cargo aircraft during a multi-service operational test and evaluation of the new aircraft.

“I learned more in one year here than I did in three years in (the 82nd Airborne) Division,” Love said. “Division would drill us to react to a hazard, but here they coach, teach and train us why it’s important to react a certain way. We learn how wind speed and body position can affect oscillation during descent. Our subject matter experts take the time to explain all the dynamics of airborne operations. The training makes us more knowledgeable and more confident.”

Love said part of the training includes being fitted with accelerometers and global positioning devices, which provide test officers with data necessary to understand what is happening with a new piece of equipment as well as jumper dynamics from exit to landing.

A 2005 graduate of the U.S. Army Military Academy at West Point, Love served as a platoon leader and executive officer with the 82nd Signal Battalion, which included a one-year tour in Afghanistan. She was assigned to the ABNSOTD in August 2008, initially as the operations officer then a year ago as HHC commander.

One of the first new equipment assessments she participated in as a test paratrooper was the T-11 advanced tactical parachute system, a non-steerable parachute developed to improve parachute performance during mass tactical airborne operations.

The T-11 is replacing the T-10 parachute system, which has been used for more than 50 years.

“The T-11 takes a lot for a smaller Soldier like me to maneuver and prepare to land,” Love explained. “It was designed to accommodate an increased total rigged weight of the paratrooper. In fact, I prefer to jump it with a full combat equipment load to compensate for my smaller size. Bigger guys tend to have better landings than me.”

Love said the T-11 was also designed to reduce the paratrooper’s rate of descent from 22 feet per second using the T-10D parachute to 18 feet per second, depending on the jumper’s weight and drop altitude. Although the T-11 parachute has “slip assist loops” to aid the paratrooper in maneuvering the chute, she said it was not designed for maneuverability like the MC1-1 parachute system.

Test paratroopers
Photo by Jim Finney/Special to the Paraglide

A safety team
prepares to assist a test paratrooper with the Airborne and Special Operations Test Directorate recover from waterborne operations at Woodlake gated community near Vass, N.C. The ABNSOTD’s test paratroopers train for possible water hazards by making deliberate water landings.
The T-11 parachute system was designed for mass tactical combat jumps at an altitude of about 550 feet and aircraft speed of 140 knots for high performance aircraft, she said.

In addition to in-depth, static-line parachute jump training, Love said some of the ABNSOTD’s test paratroopers also conduct extensive military free-fall training, including wind tunnel training.

She said the training test paratroopers undergo ensures safe, accurate tests that ultimately lead to the best airborne equipment and parachuting techniques for airborne and air assault personnel.

Formerly known at the Airborne Test Board, the ABNSOTD began as a service board activated in December 1944 at Camp Mackall, but its history can be traced back to the Testing and Developing Section of the Airborne Command, organized in 1942 at Camp Mackall and the original Parachute Test Platoon, activated at Fort Benning, Ga. in June 1940.

The ABNSOTD is one of nine directorates in the U.S. Army Operational Test Command, headquartered at Fort Hood, Texas.

Source:  Paraglide, July 14, 2011

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