He spent way, waytoo much time watching an awful, sports-themed porno called Blowin' the Whistle. But my college housemate Chris will be forever rad in my book. Because he would jump out of planes at 35,000 feet or higher -- braving sub-zero temperatures, sucking on oxygen tanks, free falling for minutes at a time. And then, when he'd finally splash down, he'd go rescue sailors and astronauts lost at sea.All that was brutal, of course. But there was an equally large danger looming that he'd miss his target entirely. You see, guys like Chris, doing HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) and HAHO (High Altitude High Opening) jumps, have to leap out of their planes during fog and rain and woolly-thick cloud cover. All of which makes it awfully tough to stick a target.A new set of gadgets being developed at the Army's Natick Soldier Systems Center should help the Chrises of the world. The Military Free Fall Navigation System connects GPS guidance controls to a helmet heads-up display "a tiny TV-like display mounted to one side of [a] goggle," Natick says. All of that is then plugged in to a PDA-based mission planner, which can recalculate drop zones and redirect parachutes in the sky, based on wind speed and direction. Natick hopes to field a prototype by 2006.THERE'S MORE: The navigation system for jumpers runs off of many of the same technologies being used to make precision cargo airdrops. Defense Tech previewed that system called, no joke, the "Sherpa" here.
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