By Sgt. 1st Class Abdiel Kittler and Mr. James Cochran (JC), Airborne and Special Operations Test Directorate, U.S. Army Operational Test Command
FORT BENNING, Georgia — The Army’s newest airborne paratroopers will soon be learning how to jump using a new training parachute tested here recently.
Airborne and Special Operations Test Directorate (ABNSOTD) certified test paratroopers with the “Black Hats” of 1st Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) Basic Airborne School successfully tested the new J-3 parachute system.
“The objective was to certify the J-3 Training Parachute using the 70-plus year old J-1 Training Parachute’s baseline ballistic data,” said Dr. Michael Currin, Airborne and Special Operations Test Directorate, Operations Research/Systems Analysis.
“Data was collected during side-by-side mannequin drops from the 250-Foot Free Tower prior to risk reduction drops from the 250-Foot Tower,” he added.
Testing demonstrated safety, compatibility, and reliability of the J-3 Training Parachute with the 250-Foot Free Tower Basic Airborne Training Apparatus.
According to Currin, this deliberate methodology is critical to ensuring the new parachute system meets established training requirements and more importantly, is deemed “safe to use” by the operational force.
ABNSOTD Certified Test Jumpers conducted multiple “risk reduction jumps” to mitigate the uncertainty of risks associated with jumping the new parachute from the 250-ft Tower Parachute Training Apparatus for the first time.
Such risk reduction jumps are routinely conducted to assess the risk of incidents to operational Soldiers, and reduce those risks with equipment not yet fielded.
The ABNSOTD’s Test Technology Branch used certified instrumentation to collect time, space, and position information data as well as still photography and video footage to ensure the new parachute operated within all established safety parameters for things such as rate of descent and oscillation.
Mr. Luke Keating, the 1-507th PIR Doctrine Writer said, “The 250-foot towers have been used since the inception of Airborne School and the test platoon. In 1940, the War Department saw the benefit of this training aid and sent the newly established Airborne Infantry ‘Test Platoon’ up to New Jersey to use the towers there. These towers add realism to airborne training that cannot be duplicated.”
“ABNSOTD’s Certified Operational Test Paratroopers are direct descendants of the Army’s original Test Platoon, so this test was special to all of us involved,” said ABNSOTD Parachute Rigger and Test Paratrooper Sgt. Julio Sanchez.
“Not long after training on the towers in New Jersey, the original Test Platoon returned here to Fort Benning, Georgia and conducted the first official jump from a Douglas B-18 on August 16th, 1940.”
The U.S. Army Airborne school required the replacement of the current 250-Foot Free Tower Parachute.
The current Training Parachute consists of a modified T-10D canopy attached to a modified T-11 harness.
The new J-3 canopy is a 32-foot flat circular parachute using modern equipment and textiles.
“The J-1 training parachute has impeccably supported the training of students for nearly 70 years,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Mark Springer of the U.S. Army Infantry School.
“The 250-foot jump towers have been in mostly continuous use since their construction in 1941 and 1942. Four were originally built, but one was destroyed in 1954 by a tornado,” he added.
“This training parachute affords cadre members the ability to provide Basic Airborne Course students feedback on the preparation for live parachuting in their next phase of training,” said Mr. Robert L Cowling, Equipment Specialist – Personnel Airdrop Systems Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment, Natick Massachusetts.
During J-3 testing, close to 50 live combined risk reduction/operational drops were conducted.
“The cadre from B Company, 1-507th was absolutely awesome to work with and we could not have asked for a more professional group of operational test jumpers!” said Sgt. Maj. Kyle Margelofsky of ABNSOTD.
For ABNSOTD Director Col. Brad Mock, the test had personal significance.
Mock’s Grandfather, Col. (Ret) Lamar “Bill” Welch was the 21st Commander of the Airborne Department at Fort Benning, Georgia from 1964 to 1972.
“He even made a short appearance in the movie “The Green Berets” and can be seen talking to the lead character played by the actor John Wayne in front of the very same 250-foot jump towers used for the J-3 test,” Mock said.
“My grandfather and father both jumped the J-1 from the towers, but when I went through Airborne School in 1991, our tower jumps were weathered out. Here I am 30 years and a couple hundred jumps later, and I was finally given the opportunity to not only jump from the 250-foot tower, but had the absolute privilege of being the very first paratrooper and test jumper to do so with the J-1’s replacement — the new J-3 parachute. Again, this has been such a rewarding experience and a memory that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”
“The J-1 parachute had been used since 1952, so it’s been around for nearly 70 years,” said Sgt. 1st Class Steven Bennett, ABNSOTD Parachute Rigger and Test Paratrooper.
“We hope that the testing of the J-3 parachute will contribute to the safe and successful training of the next several generations of paratroopers from the towers, and that this chute will be around for the next 70 years!”
“During the operation of this test, all installation, local, state, and federal guidelines and protective measures stemming from the outbreak of COVID-19 were observed and enforced by the test team,” said Maj. Cam Jordan, ABNSOTD Executive Officer.
“Consequently, paratroopers are a very hard demographic to socially distance,” he said. “Our goal is to keep the Soldiers participating in testing socially-distant and safe during every phase of our operations.”
About the U.S. Army Operational Test Command:
The Fort Bragg, North Carolina-based ABNSOTD plans, executes, and reports on operational tests and field experiments of Airborne and Special Operations Forces equipment, procedures, aerial delivery and air transportation systems to provide key operational data for the continued development and fielding of doctrine, systems, and equipment to the Warfighter.
The U.S. Army Operational Test Command is based at West Fort Hood, Texas, and its mission ensures systems developed are effective in a Soldier’s hands and suitable for the environments in which they train and fight. Test unit Soldiers provide feedback by offering input to improve upon existing and future systems Soldiers will ultimately use to train and fight.