Earlier this week, the US Army’s famed 173rd Airborne Brigade participated in an airdrop at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany as part of Sabre Junction ’16. However, not everything went smoothly, though thankfully, no human casualties were sustained in the incident. Three High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWV, aka “Humvees”) were lost when their rigging failed after being airdropped from US Air Forces Europe C-130 Hercules tactical airlifters. And, it was all caught on video!
The first Humvee meets its maker approximately 20 seconds into the footage. Though two of its three parachutes seem to have deployed, the Humvee nevertheless breaks free, and for a brief moment, joins the hallowed ranks of Army Aviation, before slamming into the ground. The second Humvee is lost 59 seconds into the video, its chutes also deploying but the rigging failing to retain the pallet the Humvee is loaded onto. And, to the delight of the soldiers observing the aerial buffoonery unfolding in the blue skies above them, a third Humvee apparently decided to attempt to fly as well 1 minute and 32 seconds into the video. Other airdropped (non-human) objects seem to have been snarled and tangled in the floating remains of the vehicular pallets’ chutes.
To airdrop a Humvee, the vehicles are loaded onto metal pallets, sometimes with the use of a crane. Three G-11B parachutes (with a diameter of 100 ft apiece, and a weight of 275 lbs altogether) are strapped to the Humvees, while honeycombed pads and pieces of lightweight wood are stacked underneath the vehicles to absorb the shock of a normal landing. When in the air, the loadmaster will open the C-130’s rear cargo door when pilots slow down the aircraft to approximately 160 mph, releasing a smaller drogue chute attached to the vehicle pallet. The drag of the drogue chute yanks the Humvee out of the aircraft and into the sky, its G-11Bs deploying soon afterwards for a presumably comfortable float down to Earth.
Any number of things could’ve gone wrong with this particular airdrop, including improper rigging, or high winds which would have had the effect of disturbing the drop. The latter seems to be least likely, given the descent patterns of other airdropped Humvees in the video. If the Humvee is improperly attached to its pallet, or all chutes fail to deploy (only two seemed to with the first loss), the weight of the vehicle coupled with the jarring motion of being pulled out of an inert position (inside the aircraft) would have rendered the G-11B’s retention abilities null.
To loosely paraphrase the song, those Humvees ain’t gonna jump no more.