ASBP: GPS Equipped Parachutes Deliver Blood from the Sky to Save Lives
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GPS Equipped Parachutes Deliver Blood from the Sky to Save Lives

by ASBP Staff Writer
Successful blood airdrop test using GPS equipped parachutes at the Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz.
Successful blood airdrop test using GPS equipped parachutes at the Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz.

Up in the air, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…blood?  A new and exciting method to deliver blood through parachute drops may help quickly save the lives of military service members in theatre.

The Joint Medical Distance Support and Evacuation (JMDSE) Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD) project— a U.S. military program comprised of Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E), U.S.  Joint Forces Command, (USJFCOM), the Army, Navy, and Air Force—is working on a special delivery system designed to accurately deliver urgently needed blood to war fighters in battle.  Blood banking officers from the Armed Services Blood Program are working with the program to test the effectiveness of these systems.    The new delivery method would utilize the micro-light weight (up to 150lbs) and ultra-light weight (up to 699lbs) Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPADS) GPS-guided parachutes to deliver blood to service members in theatre. It is a significant development that if approved, will have life-saving consequences.

The idea of using these systems to deliver blood was conceived during a series of warfighter requirement meetings in the fall of 2009.  The military blood program was contacted shortly thereafter by project leaders and asked to participate by coordinating the use of real blood products and to ensure safe and effective packaging, transport and recovery of the blood used in the test. In addition, these blood banking officers were requested to lend their specialized skills in the development of a new packing design for an unmanned aircraft delivery platform.  Testing began in 2009 with simulated blood, and then with real blood at Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona, February 2010. 

Traditionally, the delivery of blood to theatre  involves airplanes landing in fixed airfields or helicopters flying to remote locations.  The process of using parachute delivery can be less costly than the traditional method of delivering blood, but aside from cost, there are three major advantages to using parachute drops:  1) Delivery time can be faster, 2) delivery is less conspicuous, and 3) the quantity of blood that can be dropped can be scaled appropriately.   Delivery time for parachute drops is faster compared to the traditional method because there is no waiting time for planes to land nor ground transportation to the site. JPADS has the added advantage of allowing systems to be dropped from up to 25,000 ft above sea level which greatly adds to aircrew/aircraft survivability in a hostile environment.    Parachute drops can also be an effective and discrete method to deliver to remote locations. Unlike an airplane or helicopter drop, parachute drops reduce the risk of being spotted. Lastly, and perhaps the most advantageous aspect of this method is the ability of the GPS-guided parachutes to drop only a few units at a time, as opposed to dropping large shipments of up to 5,200 pounds – which is typical of airplane drops. 

The parachute systems consist of a two-stage process that includes a small drogue parachute to stabilize the load followed by deployment of the parafoil, the larger parachute that carries the load to the ground. Delivery times vary depending on height level, but during testing at the Yuma Proving Grounds, a typical drop lasted approximately ten minutes. In a worst case scenario the time could take as long as 20-25 minutes, but that time can be reduced if the timer controlled drogue parachute is used for much of the descent.

Currently, the JMDSE program is still in the testing and evaluation phase. An integral part of the research in this project will be an attempt to show that blood is suitable for use after a drop, and for this reason, parachute testing is expected to continue until 2011.  Until then, keep your eyes on the skies above!

To view footage of this unique delivery system of blood, click here.