For the first time in more than 50 years, the Army is upgrading soldiers’ parachutes.
The service will replace each of its 52,000 T-10 parachute systems with T-11s over the next five years. The new model, which has been in the works since the 1990s, supports 400 pounds, compared to the T-10’s 360. It also has a steadier canopy that in test jumps has reduced injury rates by 70 percent, according to the developer.
Jumpers are a lot bigger today than they were in the 1950s, and the old parachutes are not capable of handling the additional weight, says Gary McHugh, a program expert with Airborne Systems, a New Jersey-based technology company that designed the T-11.
The Army began phasing in the new parachutes last March. Airborne won a $14 million contract to manufacturer slightly less than half of the parachutes that will be delivered in the next year, with Aerostar International and BAE Systems manufacturing the rest.
McHugh says the development of the T-11 presented a variety of challenges because the new model had to descend slower and steadier than the T-10. It couldn’t be any larger than its predecessor, as it had to be compatible with all military aircraft. It also had to fit on the Army’s standard parachute-packing tables.
“You may think that replacing 1950s technology would be a simple thing,” McHugh said. “But this was by no means an easy contract.”
The new system’s reserve handle has been moved to the middle of the system, rather than the right side, so that jumpers can yank it with either hand.
As part of its development contract, Airborne had to sell the T-11’s data rights to the federal government, McHugh says. But the company retained international rights to the product, and it has now started marketing the parachute to militaries worldwide.