The flight test of the recovery parachutes for NASA Ares program has been even more exciting–and I have done more of it–than that of the NASA Orion CPAS. Both have been amazing, but during the course of the Ares program, the test team has passed more milestones, done more envelope expansion, than any other C-17 program in recent years.
Airdrop design considerations include the cargo compartment, ramp and door, and cargo floor.
The C-17 was designed to carry cargo in its massive cargo compartment–this photo, taken from the ramp in the aft end of the cargo compartment, reveals the size in depth, width, and height.
The next step is loading the Ares Jumbo Drop Test Vehicle (JDTV) on the platform and transferring both from the flatbed trailer to a piece of cargo handling equipment known as a k-loader.
Cargo Ramp and Door
The k-loader uses hydraulic lifts for moving the load platform up to the level of the cargo ramp and for fine tuning to the left and right, so that it aligns perfectly with the airdrop rails (near the center third of the ramp) on the aircraft. The k-loader also has a drive wheel to propel the heavy platform onto the aircraft.
This photo also shows the cargo door and ramp. The cargo door lifts up out of the way and the ramp folds down, either to the parallel position as shown here or all the way to the ground so vehicles can drive up into the cargo compartment.
Once on the aircraft, there is still work to be done–rigging the platform for airdrop involves setting up the parachutes that will extract the platform from the cargo compartment in flight.
Careful examination of this next photo shows cables that run the length of the cargo compartment (right side of photo) used in the extraction rigging. There’s also a bit of levity as the test team poses in front of its unique cargo and even “decorates” the nose cone before the aerial delivery.
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