The C17 ZZ171, the first-ever RAF C17, which landed in Brize Norton for the first time in May 2001, is also the first RAF C17 to get the mid-life upgrade. In March it reached the Boeing plant of San Antonio, Texas, in the US, for a modernization and obsolescence-removal programme that will keep it under work until late september, before returning it to the RAF at the very latest standard. The other six will follow, one at a time, and at the end of the MLU the planes will be all at the same standard, and at the very best technological level.
The ZZ171 has already on his shoulders over 14.000 hours of operational flying, and the RAF C17 fleet in total has flown nearly 66.000 hours by now, a clear example of how hard worked these huge cargos are, always in high demand for all kind of missions.
Meanwhile, the A400M is undergoing tests in order to obtain the european civilian certification. The prototype MSN5001 has been undergoing vicious fatigue-tests on the airframe, which simulated 1665 flying missions, at the rhythm of 160 simulated flight per day. 1165 flights is estimated to be five times the realistic number of missions that an operational A400M would fly in a normal year.
For the military certification, EADS aims to simulate a total of 25.000 flying missions, working the fuselage to its very limits: the expected "standard" operational life of the cargo plane is indicated in 10.000 missions.
In the meanwhile the WTD 61 (Experimental Center Bundeswehr 61, a test center of the german armed forces) have certified for operational use the "ParaLander" system from Cassidian. The ParaLander is basically a pallet for the parachute delivery of a 1000 kg payload, but is fitted with a so accurate GPS guidance system that it is classified as Unmanned Flying Vehicle UAV, having received Category I UAV certification that means that it is cleared for deployment in restricted areas, including in peacekeeping flight operations! The pallet can be launched from 10.000 meters of altitude and up to 50 km away from the Landing Zone, and the ParaLander guidance system has proven capable to maneuver the parachute and reach the intended landing point with pin-point accuracy. Five systems have been acquired by the Bundeswehr, cleared for use from the C-160 Transal and the German Army plans to use the ParaLander "as soon as possible" in Afghanistan to resupply FOBs from the air.
The medium-term goal is also to be able to deploy the ParaLander over populated areas during operations and from on board the A400M.
ParaLander consists of a ram-air parachute and the control unit, which are lashed to the payload, and a mission planning system. After the parachute system has been dropped from the aircraft, the control unit steers it and its payload to the target area with the aid of servomotors and GPS. A patented mechanical system, activated by a laser altimeter, ensures that the load’s descent is slowed down in good time shortly before the landing.
The concept seem to be the delivery of pallets of supplies DIRECTLY into the FOB's perimeter with air drops.
Cassidian is already working on a 5 tons payload variant of the pallet: a very interesting development in terms of logistics and resupply procedures, which might interest the British Armed Forces as well, since air drops are widely used in Afghanistan, and more accurate deliveries, particularly if they could be made within the FOB's perimeter or very close to it, would reduce the risk for the troops greatly.