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Airdrops prepare High Rollers for fall deployment

Senior Master Sgt. Rob Garrett retrieves a parachute from a bundle airdropped from a C-130 (inset) near Herlong, Calif., while Senior Master Sgt. Gary Boucher transports the pallet on a forklift.

Senior Master Sgt. Rob Garrett retrieves a parachute from a bundle airdropped from a C-130 (inset) near Herlong, Calif., while Senior Master Sgt. Gary Boucher transports the pallet on a forklift.

RENO -- Afghanistan's road system is in poor shape - underdeveloped, war-torn, and in some cases non-existent. Yet, ground forces in remote locations still need beans and bullets. While convoys remain the first choice, sometimes the only way to move critical supplies to forward operating bases and combat outposts is by airdrop.

As the 152nd Airlift Wing prepares for an autumn deployment to Afghanistan, crews take advantage of airdrop training here in a desert landscape similar to the Islamic nation.
Just a 15-minute flight from Reno, in Herlong, Calif., Airmen from the 192nd Airlift Squadron and the 152nd Logistics Readiness Squadron take part in specialized training using the Improved Container Delivery System.

Usually, a crew practices dropping one container out of the unit's C-130 Hercules aircraft. In preparation for deployment though, the unit opts for a mass drop which consists of the rapid ejection of 10 bundles. Mass drops in Afghanistan can deploy up to 16 bundles weighing 2,200 pounds each.

Mass drops require careful pre-flight planning and two flight passes over the drop zone. Aircrews over the battlefield can try to avoid enemy small-arms fire by dropping supplies from high altitudes. During the first flight pass, the crew releases a weather probe called a drop sonde. The probe registers the wind's speed and direction, and global positioning.

"This whole process (for airdrops) takes more planning effort, rigging, coordination, and makes the loadmaster's job more complicated (than other flights)," said Maj. Ricardo Bravo of the 192nd. "The navigators up front have to do a different type of 'aiming,' utilizing different calculations than a normal airdrop. For a pilot, it is nice to experience this type of training at home station because when 10 bundles exit the aircraft, a pilot gets to feel how the plane reacts."

Young aircraft commanders can actually feel how the aircraft dips after the sudden weight shift. These are valuable lessons and skills to take into a combat theater.
In addition to all the pre-flight planning, in-flight calculations, and post-drop adjustments, crew members note persistent challenges in hitting the target.

Because mass drops require two passes overhead - one for the drop sonde and the other for the release of cargo - the wind's direction and strength can change very quickly in between passes.

Also, parachutes flutter open after the bundles leave the aircraft, but unlike guided bomb systems, the parachute is only good for stabilizing the floating crates or bundles. A sudden gust could carry the bundle significantly off course. That's when crews rely on Mother Nature in hopes that resupply deliveries land safely on target.