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High-Tech Cardboard Boxes Used In Afghan Food Airdrops

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 12, 2001 – How do you airdrop desperately needed food rations to Afghan refugees without the payload falling into the wrong hands or crushing the recipients?

Two Air Force sergeants found a way.

Operation Enduring Freedom officials credit Air Force loadmasters Senior Master Sgt. Cliff Harmon and Master Sgt. Donny Brass for developing a novel method to safely and accurately deliver rations to refugees without using heavy wood crates or tell-tale parachutes.

Phoning in from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Air Force Col. Kip Self, director for Mobility Forces in Europe, told Pentagon reporters today that Harmon and Brass used refrigerator cardboard boxes with three-ply walls to get the job done without using heavy parachute-suspended crates.

"This is totally different," Self said, noting that loadmasters slide the boxes out of the back of the C-17. When the large boxes hit the slipstream they disintegrate and the individual meals literally "float down to the ground." Forty-two boxes are carried in each aircraft on each run.

Since the food drops began Oct. 7, teams of two C-17s flying out of Ramstein during four straight night runs have airdropped more than 140,000 individual daily meals to Afghan refugees, Self said.

"That is approximately 17,000 meals per aircraft" per run, Self said, adding that the crews have successfully dropped about 35,000 rations each day. The planes, he noted, are rotated for each mission.

Called the Tri-Wall Aerial Delivery System, the almost 7- foot-tall boxes are accurately dropped "away from any displaced persons, but not so far away that they can't get to them," Harmon said. This he explained.

Unlike airdrops using heavy crates and parachutes, Harmon remarked that the "Tri-Wall" method isn't as apparent as parachute drops, therefore minimizing the possibility of the food from falling into Taliban hands. The delivery, he added, also won't hurt the recipients.

Brass said the three-layer-thick boxes are much easier to load into planes than conventional airdrop methods. The cardboard boxes take just 30-45 minutes to rig to load, he noted, as opposed to four or five hours of rigging for more traditional delivery means.

The boxes, measuring 40 x 48 inches in width, are ideal for airdrop at higher altitudes, Brass added, noting that the C-17s have especially accurate navigation systems.

"We know exactly where these items are going to land at, based upon the land, altitude, ballistics, drift, and everything else," Harmon said.

"We've zeroed-in on the drop zones ... but, without endangering anybody" on the ground. It's a good feeling that we've increased the capability of feeding people via airdrop over the last two years," Harmon noted.

"We've tripled the size of the payload that we deliver now, and that means a lot when you're feeding three times as many people as you used to," he concluded.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: See www.usafe.af.mil/airdrop/home.html for photos of Afghan humanitarian relief mission.)

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