In preparation for what would be a successful parachute jump in
Yuma, Ariz., former President George H. W. Bush trained in a simulator
that gives paratroopers realistic perceptions of what actually happens
during a mission.
The simulator, called Parasim, has been around for years, but recently
has been upgraded to make it more portable and to meet new requirements
of units such as the U.S. special operations forces.
Wearing a virtual-reality, head-mounted tracker and display, the
trainee can scan a three-dimensional jump scene. The scenes can
be based on real mission terrain digital data maps, and adjust in
response to parachute toggle inputs and head motions.
The idea is for the trainee to get realistic perceptions of turning,
drifting and maneuvering, for example. He can look overhead and
react to simulated parachute malfunctions, scan in any direction
to avoid collisions and conduct operations with other jumpers.
Jeff Hogue, the inventor of Parasim, said that this technology
is useful for mission planning and rehearsal. Hogue works for the
company that makes the trainer, Systems Technology Inc.
For military mission planning, the digital satellite imagery comes
from the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, complete with wind
fields, which reflect the location and forecast weather, said Hogue.
Hogue told National Defense that practicing how to deal with malfunctions
in the parachute and unexpected scenarios can help minimize injuries
and fatalities. Many of the jumpers do not get to train in the actual
environment where they have to carry out their mission, said Hogue.
An accomplished jumper has to react to contingencies with a trained
response, almost like a reflex, he said. And that is exactly what
this simulator does: it injects as many failures as possible into
the mission and teaches the jumpers how to quickly react and correct
them, said Hogue. Operational parachutists usually have a reserve
parachute, but aircrews who have to eject in an emergency, for example,
sometimes have just one device.
Jumpers only have seconds to realize that their chute is malfunctioning,
before they tumble to the ground at a speed of hundreds of feet
It is vital for a parachutist to properly be trained to check parachute
deployment and controllability, to be able to identify specific
malfunctions and immediately follow the required correction procedure,
if necessary, said Hogue.
Harnesses, toggles and risers are in place in the simulator. But
instead of having the actual parachute, once harnessed to the trainer,
the jumpers have to wear the virtual reality head-mounted display
that allows them to scan the scene.
“On the back of it is a tracker, which keeps track of where
you look, and then the computer computes the proper image for the
direction you are looking,” Hogue explained. “That way,
if you look up you can see your parachute; if you look down, you
can see where you are. If you look around, you can find the other
guys you are jumping with.”
Parachutes deploy by pulling out the rip cords, said Hogue, so
the parachute in the trainer “has rip cord capability, and
when you pull on them, you get your parachute out.” That action
is simulated on the computer.
To teach trainees how to deal with faulty parachutes, he said,
“We make them deliberately defective and you can correct it
by pulling on the straps that you get suspended from. ... Up on
top of the straps are sensors and those sensors know if they are
being pulled down on. If you put the proper procedure in, it will
clear the malfunctions.”
Toggles usually steer the parachutes, Hogue explained, which in
the simulator run through a control box.
“You start out in free fall; you decide when the right time
is to pull your rip cord; you look up and make sure your parachute
is good,” he said.
“If your parachute isn’t good, you follow the corrective
procedure, or you pull your cutaway and your reserve to get a new
parachute.” Once the jumper does that, he has to look around
to see if there is somebody else near him.
“One of the procedures is that, if you see people around
you, you don’t even try to find your toggles right away, you
pull on your risers, and that gives you steering immediately,”
Hogue noted. “Those are easier to find than the toggles.”
Then, the parachutists have to look down at the ground to figure
out where they need to go, and whether they can get there. “You
have to follow a landing pattern,” said Hogue. Many jumpers
who make it to the ground also get hurt. “Over half of those
people who come out and are in good shape get significantly hurt
on the ground and obviously there is a training problem there.”
The Parasim has been used by the U.S. Marine Corps, Army, Air Force
Life Support units, Navy, NASA, Smoke Jumpers and recreational parachutists.
The Army Special Operations Forces Command is employing the simulator
to train for the new SF-10A round parachutes. The company recently
sold new trainers to the Air Force Air Mobility Command and various
Air National Guard units, according to Hogue.
The initial idea for the simulator came from the Smoke Jumpers,
who needed to learn how to land safely and reduce injuries. The
Smoke Jumpers are an elite group of inter-agency specialists from
the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture.
They are considered the most highly skilled forest firefighters
in the nation. They use parachutes as transportation into remote
areas when they combat wildfires.
“Back in the 1980s, these guys realized that computers have
got into the point where maybe somebody can come up with a flight
simulator for them that would teach them how to do the job and not
to cost them an arm and a leg,” said Hogue. “Parachuting
is a very dangerous thing to learn ... and if you don’t provide
training then you get people hurt, and they don’t do well
on the job. With the simulator people can train and don’t
get hurt when they actually go out and do their jobs.”
The Marine Corps has used this technology to train force reconnaissance
units to plan and practice parachute missions. Conventional aircrews
also added the simulator into their training because they realized
that pilots needed to become more proficient in landing terrain
options, operating in hostile locations and figuring out what time
of the day or night they should make their jumps.
“The Smoke Jumpers had a problem with their parachutes not
opening properly and guys getting hurt. They came up with a parachute
that solved all these problems,” said Hogue. “Special
operations forces found out about that parachute, and they wanted
to start using it because they had been training with the Smoke
Systems Technology Inc. recently unveiled a windows-based, stand-alone
version of the Parasim, which currently is being tested by the U.S.
Special Operations Command. A networked system, which will allow
multiple users in the same simulation at the same time, also is