First utilized during World War II, airdrop has become a useful tool in times of war and peace alike. Airdrop was initially used to resupply troops on the ground who were otherwise isolated from friendly contact. Ammunition, clothing and rations were among the supplies airdropped. The basic principle of airdropping still exists today however the method has been further developed for more varied uses.
Humanitarian organizations often provide resources necessary for nourishment and medical aid to areas of need through airdrop. Military branches today airdrop anything from food to tanks. Airborne assault and bombings are also considered types of airdrop. Bomber aircraft were the first to airdrop supplies in WWII as special canisters were fitted to the previously existing bombing systems.
Different types and methods of airdrop are utilized depending on variables such as cargo size and altitude at the time of drop. Low-velocity, high-velocity and free fall airdrops are all viable options. Low-velocity involves parachutes designed to slow down the cargo’s fall as much as possible as it is often fairly delicate. High-velocity airdrop delivers a load that is stabilized by a parachute but is not slowed down to the same degree as in low-velocity scenarios. And, as the name suggests, free fall airdrop does not involve a parachute.
A few types of parachutes are used in different airdrop situations. The G-12E, for example, is 64 feet in diameter and is designed to slow down and stabilize a load. With the ability to deliver loads at a very wide range of altitudes, the G-12 can be useful for larger cargo especially when multiple parachutes are clustered together. A 26 ft, high-velocity parachute can handle a similarly weighted cargo as a single G-12 but provides greater accuracy at a lower cost.
The method of an airdrop refers to how exactly a load leaves the aircraft. Extraction uses a parachute to pull the load out of an aircraft whereas door bundle drops have a loadmaster pushing the load out at the right time.
Gravity drops use natural forces to “roll” a load out of the aircraft. The Container Delivery System (CDS) commonly utilizes gravity drops. CDS delivers equipment too heavy for a single paratrooper to carry as well as bundles of supplies for units on the ground. Since the Korean and Vietnam Wars, CDS has been developed to handle darkness and bad weather, giving aircraft an advantage in supplying troops without revealing their location. Such efficiency has made the Container Delivery System the most common form of aerial supply for soldier and civilian aid.
An innovative airdrop system recently backed by the US Department of Defense is the FireFly. The FireFly is described as accurate, reliable, and easy to use. It delivers unmanned cargo to a precise location while adjusting to weather conditions in real-time. FireFly also has the ability to travel more than 25 kilometers after being dropped in order to covertly reach its destination. Plus, it can be remote controlled and operated if necessary.