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Parks College

Parachute Research Group

Test Drops

General Aviation Serves America

Researchers use General Aviation to test parachutes

The Parks College Parachute Research Group does research on parachutes in several ways.

The following photographs and text describe some of the test drops that we have done locally, where we have been able to take pictures and otherwise record our work. (Some of our work for the military cannot be shown.)

Drop Zones/Aircraft

The PRG has done test drops at 2 St. Louis area locations: And we have utilized the following aircraft locally: (Military aircraft used have been the Hercules C130 and the C17)

What we drop

Our main test loads have been custom made steel "tubs" weighing about 100 pound unloaded, and we sometime increase the load with extra weight. We also sometimes drop parachutes with only barbell weights attached when we do not need to record the drop with instrumentation.

For very small parachutes, we sometimes exit the aircraft as skydivers and release the parachute and weight while under canopy.

What we record

Inside the tubs we usually have data acquisition systems that record information about the drops: We usually have someone doing video of the drops from the ground, and sometimes one of the researchers on board the aircraft is wearing a video camera like skydivers wear.

"Adventures in Test Drop - a pictorial tour"

The following pictures and explanations will provide you with a look into the always exciting and often humorous job of dropping things out of airplanes in the name of research.

Test drop work requires a huge amount of equipment, materials, and tools since it includes work in so many areas: parachute rigging, mechanical design, electrical design and wiring, and computer programming. Here are two views of the equipment we usually need to bring to the drop zone: View 1 and View 2.

Here is a closeup of one of our tubs with a parachute packed and sitting on top of it, ready to be taken to the airplane.

Here two tubs are shown loaded into the Cessna 411 onto specially built roller rails to make moving them into place easier.

Here is a view of the Cessna 411 loaded with tubs and the researchers, Jean Potvin (in front), and Gary Peek (with the video camera helmet), ready to taxi out to the runway.

Here is Jean Potvin in the back of the Cessna 411 while we were circling in preparation for another drop pass. Note the roller rail pointing out the door. Here he is again right before a drop with the tub in position.

Here a small "trilobe" parachute is being dropped to record descent rate in preparation for its use later as a reference parachute. Its load is a series of dumbell weights.

Here are pictures from the airplane of several cross, or "cruciform", parachutes being released, all from about 500 feet:

Usually the tubs land in grass near the runway, but, even when doing test drops from low altitudes, which should make the process of "spotting" easier, the loads don't always land where desired. Sometimes tubs land in unfavorable places making it harder to recover the load. Sometimes when the tubs are lightly loaded they land great, but get dragged to even more unfavorable places. Even operating the equipment used to recover the loads sometimes presents difficulties.


We of course would like to thank the unpictured people who have worked with us and sometimes simply helped, to test our ideas in the lab, build custom equipment, pack parachutes, load airplanes, fly the airplanes, push loads out of the airplanes, video them during descent, recover them after they land, and help us clean up and put everything away.

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