040908-m-0484L-sherpa1LR.jpgIn the last month or so, we've talked about the U.S. Army's interest in drone-launched missiles and spinning CopterBoxes, for airdropping medicines and supplies into the combat zone.But the Marines have a precision airdrop project, too a GPS-guided cargo parachute called the Sherpa Autonomous Parafoil Delivery System. And they're testing it out over Iraq right now.With conventional airdrops, the Marines have to fly low, around 2000 feet, to make sure the goods are delivered accurately. And they have to do it fast, to make sure they don't get hit with enemy fire. Sherpa's satellite-enabled accuracy lets the Marines cargo plane fly slower and higher -- up to 25,000 feet, avoiding shots from below. The chute has been used twice in the last month or so to deliver food and supplies to Camp Korean Village in Iraq's Al-Anbar province.According to the Marines, "Sherpa uses a Global Positioning System computer and control lines to steer itself from an altitude of up to five miles down to within a few meters of the designated target area on the ground, said Staff Sgt. Tammy A. Belleville."

"Basically, the Sherpa is an oversized 900 square foot parachute canopy attached to a servomotor," said the 40-year-old Oceanside, Calif. native. "The GPS computer calculates everything from winds, direction of flight, target coordinates, altitude and other information to steer the load to the designated delivery point on the deck."The servomotor inside the Sherpa unit steers the control lines that direct the parachute and the load to the designated target point on the ground, said Belleville.From an altitude of more than 10,000 feet, the Sherpas can guide their loads to other CSSB Marines on the deck below in five to 10 minutes, depending on the conditions.
But Sherpa is only a first step, really. The U.S. military is working on a family of computer-guided cargo parachutes, the Joint Precision AirDrop System, that could one day carry as much as 21 tons at a time.
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