Origin of the Capewell Release: Part II

Officers at Ft. Benning, where 200,000 paratroopers have been trained since the first U.S. airborne test unit was formed there in 1941, call the Capewell release a significant military improvement, one that theoretically can save hundreds of lives, greatly reduce the number of injuries in troop jumps, and vastly increase the potential effectiveness of combat units.

“The built-in deficiency of the T-10 parachute we have been using since 1953 – its tendency to remain inflated on the ground – has been obviated with the Capewell release,” said Col. W.E. Harrison, director of Ft. Benning’s Airborne-Air Mobility Department. “As far as I am concerned we now have the chute we want for combat purposes. Without it a paratrooper in combat could be made completely helpless in a wind of more than eight knots an hour. With it, our combat capability is considerably enhanced.”

Maj. Frank J. Mc Fadden, maintenance officer at Ft. Benning and veteran of bloody World War II combat jumps at Normandy and in Holland, said the Capewell release will allow troops in combat to continue with their primary missions despite high winds.

“In the past injuries on combat jumps resulting from wind have run as high as 30 percent,” he said.

How effective the device can be in peacetime training operations may be evaluated by referring back to the three accidents previously reviewed; they could have been avoided had the troops been using the Capewell release.

What pleases the Army most about the release – and what was a necessary characteristic before it was accepted – is its accident-proof nature.

Three separate and distinct actions are required to activate the release and cause the canopy to break loose from the harness. Therefore, it would be impossible for a paratrooper to activate it by accident in the air.

Once on the ground, however, he can reach up and open two little metal boxes covering the locks, press buttons, and the locks open, allowing the canopy to billow free of the harness.

The only other possible improvement that could be made on the military parachute – in light of present knowledge – would be to give it a little more maneuverability, says Capt. Fred D. Dyer, administrative officer of the Airborne-Air Mobility Department.

“We had to sacrifice some steering maneuverability when we replaced the T-7 chute with the T-10,” he said.

But the advantages of the T-10 more than offset the sacrifice.

The old T-7 had many drawbacks, said Col. Harrison. It oscillated too much sometimes causing troopers to collide in the air. It had a “terrific shock” on opening; its canopy unfurled first, then the lines came out. Occasionally if a man went out of the plane in a bad position, he would literally fall through his own chute. In the new T-10, the lines come out first, then the canopy opens, which considerably lessens the opening shock and assures positive opening.

The old chute’s rate of descent was too fast, also; it descended so swiftly that paratroopers loaded down with combat gear were prone to injury. In fact, if you weighed more than 200 pounds, you couldn’t be a paratrooper – for that reason.

Neither did the old chute allow troops to leave planes at quick enough intervals. If the planes were traveling at more than about 90 knots, there was a chance the opening shock would rip panels from the canopies.

Using the new T-10, troops can jump from planes traveling at up to 150 knots.

With improvements in the parachute, there have come improvement in and modifications in the training program at Ft. Benning, too. There are many new concepts said Capt. Dyer. For one thing, the rejection rate of trainees has been drastically reduced.

In 1942, at Ft. Benning, 14,850 trainees were rejected and 24,387 passed.

“Back then, it was felt that physical requirements should be tremendously high, comparable to the conditioning and reflexes of a professional athlete,” said Capt Dyer. “Now we have learned that a man with reasonable aptitude who is in reasonably good condition can qualify. Anyone who can master a one and one-half from a diving board is capable of learning to jump.”

One of the men who jumped the first day the Capewell device was used in a training operation was Maj. Gen. Paul I. Freeman Jr., commandant at Ft. Benning, who is in his 50’s.

The accident rate has been greatly reduced, too. More than 2,000 men went through the airborne training program at Ft. Benning last year and injuries amounted to less than one-tenth of 1 percent. There were no fatalities.

“With reasonable care in packing,” said Maj. McFadden, “this T-10 parachute will open every time. I guarantee it.”

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