Dr. Jean Potvin, Professor in the Department of Physics at St. Louis University, spoke at the AIAA Technical Specialist meeting at the Boeing IDS headquarters in St. Louis Nov. 12. His presentation, entitled "Latest Developments in the Field of Parachute Research," was well-received by the attending members and guests. Dr. Potvin's credentials in this field are unmatched:
He earned a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Colorado-Boulder and is a noted expert in the the physics of parachute design. Dr. Potvin also is an FAA Senior Parachute Rigger, USPA Parachute Jumpmaster and Instructor, a test and sport parachutist with over 2400 jumps, co-founder of the Parks College Parachute Research Group, Course Director of the H.G. Heinrich Parachute Systems Short Course, and a Member of the AIAA Aerodynamic Decelerator Systems Technical Committee.
Dr. Potvin gave an overview of the latest projects coming out of research and development and into production. The U.S. Army's new parachute system, T-11 ATPS (Advanced Tactical Parachute System) features a "muffin" shape with vents on the corners instead of the traditional rounded top. This shape reduces the swinging motion of the paratroops as they descend, and lowers their rate of descent. It is also easier to manufacture, since it is made with an overlapping cruciform shape joined at the corners without the rounded edges. The T-11 can support up to 360 pounds of load, significantly more than the 1950s era T-10 currently in use.
Another development in parachute design is the JPADS (Joint Precision Air Drop System). The revolutionary JPADS can deliver supplies to multiple locations using GPS guidance and steerable parachutes from 25,000 feet. JPADS was developed from lessons learned from the Bosnian campaign, when supplies dropped from U.S. aircraft were received by combatants on both sides of the conflict due to the lack of precision airdrop capability.
Other developments in the field of parachutes include:
The Megafly, a giant parachute system that can deliver a 30,000 pound payload from 25,000 feet. A 9,000 square foot, fully elliptical, gliding parachute (170 feet span) is guided by GPS.
LCADS (Low-Cost Aerial Delivery System) and LCLA (Low-Cost Low Altitude Aerial Resupply) are alternative parachute delivery methods using readily available materials to deliver small payloads at low cost, especially when it is impossible to recover the equipment.
Dr. Potvin also discussed the physics behind parachute design and testing. Some methods of testing parachutes include laboratory experiments (water tunnels), using paint specs on the parachute to track motion of opening action with cameras, line vertex measurements trailing airfoils, and model drops. He also demonstrated the role of CFD in the modeling of parachutes.
Please go to Dr. Potvin's website for further technical references: