Techs take on new parachute mission
Tobyhanna continues to earn new workload despite cuts to Defense spending. Technicians recently began supporting guided parachute systems used to drop supplies from as high as 25,000 feet, keeping the delivery aircraft well out of range of small arms fire.
The Joint Precision Airdrop System uses automated guidance, global positioning satellites (GPS) and onboard motors to guide supplies dropped by parachute to within close proximity of its target. It has been used by all the services since 2004.
“It was originally designed to be a throwaway system, but has proven to be so accurate and recoverable that a program to overhaul and use them again was developed,” said Jim Kessell, chief of the Navigation Systems Branch. “It is programmed with a pre-determined point of impact before it leaves the aircraft. Once jettisoned, the onboard computer picks up GPS signals, the guidance section establishes a glide path to the point of impact and the onboard motors pull the steering lines on the parachute, just like a Soldier would, to guide the attached cargo to the intended target.”
The Navigation Systems Branch is part of the Command, Control, Computers/Avionics Directorate’s Avionics Division.
There are four fielded variants of the system that can handle a variety of payloads ranging from 2,000 to 60,000 pounds. Tobyhanna personnel are currently working on components of the 2,000-pound model.
“Technicians change the batteries, upgrade software and test and inspect the system,” said Diane Styer, a logistics management specialist in the Production Management Directorate. “We began working on the first 37 of a scheduled 100 Army systems on the test and inspect program from Fort Bragg in February, and plan to finish all 100 by September. Additionally, the Air Force has contacted us regarding our ability to repair their systems as well.”
The new effort for all 1,300 Army systems will consist of a completely redesigned version of the system using many of the original configuration parts along with new brackets and enclosures to build a modular system. When a system is converted, it is shipped back to the unit it came from.
“We are working toward establishing a capability to work on the newest version of the system,” Styer said. “That system’s components are divided into three sections so that each component can be repaired or replaced individually, rather than throwing a whole system away if part of it is damaged beyond repair.”
The newest version, collectively called the Modular Airborne and Guidance Unit, or MAGU, is separated into three independent sections consisting of the battery, guidance and motor. “We’ll have capability down to the piece part level,” Kessell said. “There are more than 1,300 Army systems in the field that we can upgrade to the new configuration.
“We will initially work with the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) to supply the conversion kits with intentions of developing the capability to fabricate our own kits, lowering the cost to customers.”
Kessell said that the Systems Integration and Support Directorate will fabricate the parts and Navigation Systems technicians will assemble the kits and test them. The start of the program for the conversion should begin later in fiscal year 2013, continuing throughout fiscal year 2014.
Tobyhanna Army Depot is the Defense Department’s largest center for the repair, overhaul and fabrication of a wide variety of electronics systems and components, from tactical field radios to the ground terminals for the defense satellite communications network. Tobyhanna’s missions support all branches of the Armed Forces.
About 5,100 personnel are employed at Tobyhanna, which is located in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania. Tobyhanna Army Depot is part of the U.S. Army CECOM. Headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., the command’s mission is to research, develop, acquire, field and sustain communications, command, control computer, intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors capabilities for the Armed Forces.