nh readAir Force Academy cadets are crunching numbers to outline researching ways to detect spice use earlier, deter bird strikes on the flight line, and now, mathematically outline how and where airdrop cargo lands.

The work by Ccapstone seniors and faculty in the bBehavioral sSciences and mManagement Ddepartments aims to want to enhance airdrop precision that could save the Air Force and the Army money funding on GPS-guided parachutes. The capstone project in its second year of research.

The more expensive GPS-guided parachute systems — which run around $20,000 each — carrying equipment loads that sometimes land far from their targets, said Lt. Col. Tim Pettit, an aAcademy management department assistant professor.

"We think it's the mid-level winds," Pettit said in a news release. "They check the winds at the drop site, and the winds at the flight level, but those winds in the middle are only averaged in."

Incorporating midlevel wind data is vital to airdrop precision, as service members handling cargo in hostile environments could be at risk if the cargo misses its target.

"What if you're in a valley, but the winds blow (the parachute) off target?" Pettit said. "That's the issue — they are literally guessing those midlevel winds."

The Air Force Research Lab, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and the Army's Natick Soldier Research Center, Massachusetts, have aided their effort, but are also counting on the cadets to "examine wind speed and wind-shear effects on the parachute shape and performance," Pettit said. The parachutes themselves were created by the Army.

The cadets, along with aAcademy meteorology majors, will test on-site launches of weather balloons to gather wind data actual winds at the altitude just before a C-130 drops the instrumented cargo bundles, the release said.

Cadets will also drop hope to find how the midlevel winds change the parachute drops during four test runs in which they will drop an 800-pound full-scale model of a cargo bundle. They will conduct the study with the 302nd Airlift Wing reserve unit out of Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.

Cadets 1st Class Kyle Morse and Max Johnson, who are both systems engineers involved in the project, said the challenge will be to transition last year's class data and the data they gather into one product.

"Last year's teams started this project," Morse said in the release. "And now our job is to make it better. We had a limited knowledge of any of this, but that's what we'll be doing in the operational Air Force, taking other people's work and developing it. As a systems engineer, you have to become a jack of all trades and integrate inputs from your functional experts."

"This isn't a textbook problem," Johnson said. "There are no rules up front, so you have to define the problem and the solution as you go."