United States defence officials have contracted US aerospace/defence firm Lockheed Martin to develop technology able to improve the accuracy of air drops.
With countless applications, air drops are a hugely important part of modern military operations. So often, the presence of transport aircraft such as USAF C-130 Hercules variants or C-17 Globemaster IIIs dropping supplies has been a godsend for victims of natural disasters or soldiers in distress.
However, wind drift and other factors can send the supplies off target: a scenario Lockheed Martin's modified WindTracer system aims to correct.
Precision Air Drops
The US AFRL (Air Force Research Laboratory) has ordered the firm to produce a PAD (Precision Air Drop) system that gets supplies to the ground more quickly and more accurately than can be achieved at present.
WindTracer has now been in operation for some ten years. It works by hitting atmospheric dust particles with infrared light beams - the returning beams indicating both wind speed and wind direction. Especially at airports, WindTracer thus acts as an early warning system, giving pilots crucial information on the potential for wind shears, gust fronts, microbursts and other weather phenomenon.
Air Drop Contract
The Lockheed Martin air drop contract should involve a version of WindTracer that's dropped from altitude, measuring wind speed and wind direction during its descent and transmitting real-time data back to those in the overhead.
"Currently air drop missions require several flyovers to accurately determine wind readings, but our WindTracer technology would eliminate the need for so many passes" explains Lockheed Martin division STAR Labs' vice president, Doctor Kenneth Washington. "WindTracer is an adaptable commercial system. By developing this prototype, we're putting this technology on a path for fielding."
"Applying proven technology to the air drop mission is the most effective way to deliver fast, affordable innovation", adds Lockheed Martin Commercial Ventures president Mike Hamel. "WindTracer has been helping commercial airliners take off and land safely for years, and it is an ideal technology to support military air drops."