The cargo door slowly lowers revealing patchwork-like fields far below. The deafening noise of the MC-130 J Commando II forces the jumpers to rely on hand signals given by the instructor cadre. As the drop zone nears, the signal to jump cues the Air Commandos to execute a training mission they’ve performed countless times before – only this time they have a new parachute system to test out.
Air Commandos from the 321st Special Tactics Squadron performed double bag static-line configuration jumps (DBSL), April 13, 2017, over RAF Sculthorpe in Norfolk, England, to qualify on the new RA-1 parachute.
“The new parachute is going to replace the MC-4 parachute, which has been around for more than 40 years,” said a 321st STS combat controller. “The new parachutes have farther gliding distance and the canopies are larger with greater response to inputs. I was a fan of the new parachutes as they allow softer landings and the farther glide distance makes them more capable.”
The new gear is a higher performance system with some options not available on the previous parachute.
“The new RA-1 parachute has an increased glide ratio allowing jumpers to infill farther away from a target due to the better glide characteristics,” said the 321st STS red team flight chief. “The parachute also has the option to be used in the DBSL configuration. The DBSL configuration incorporates the highly maneuverable elliptical parachute, usually used for freefall operations from higher altitudes, with the method of a static line connected to the anchor line of the aircraft.”
The multi-purpose quality of the RA-1 parachute increases the altitude at which static lines were previously performed.
“Static line operations are performed at a lower altitude, typically 1,000 feet, where the parachute is pulled out of the container by a static line that is connected to the anchor line cables in the aircraft,” explained the flight chief. “The [new] parachute can be employed in this configuration from 3,500 to 35,000 feet.”
Testing any new equipment demands particular attention to detail and a high level of experience, especially with equipment that could lead to death if it fails.
“There were very notable procedural differences in the new system; from the way you exit the aircraft to the improved canopy performance. There was a slight learning curve involved, but that's to be expected when using any new piece of equipment,” said a 321st blue team combat controller.
As expected, the new equipment will require some time to get used to but, the RA-1 parachute received positive reviews overall.
“The new parachute is complicated to pack,” continued the controller. “However, the selling points were as advertised: the openings were smooth and the canopy was very responsive to user input.”
The operation was marked successful because of precise planning and coordination between the various agencies involved in executing this flying mission.
“The mission went well – we ended up getting 22 members qualified on jumping DBSL and qualified on the RA-1 parachute system,” said the red team flight chief.
At the end of the day, adapting to and utilizing new gear is a part of the job.
”Essentially, it's something new and shiny that we can learn, master and use to our benefit,” said a blue team controller.