September 30, 2008

Wind Prediction System Adds Accuracy To Military Air Drops

Technology developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has helped boost the military's accuracy of airdrops by up to 70 percent.

Wind directions and speeds are often tough to determine, and can easily blow cargo, vehicles and paratroopers away from their intended targets.

This can be a particular problem in mountainous terrain such as Afghanistan.

In response, the Defense Department looked to NOAA for help in developing its program to improve wind forecasts.

NOAA researchers developed software that runs on a laptop computer onboard the aircraft, called the Local Analysis and Prediction System.

The system works by analyzing a collection of data from ground instruments, balloons, aircraft, satellites and instruments dropped from the aircraft to measure the wind speed and direction at various levels to predict the course of the items being dropped.

With the new system in place, the average error distance between the center of the drop zone and the actual landing position has dropped from 5,000 feet to 1,300 feet, NOAA reported.

"Reducing the landing zone size makes recovery less dangerous for ground-based military units, who often cross hazardous areas to reach supply drops," John McGinley, one of the developers of the system, said in a statement.

McGinley, John Smart, Linda Wharton and Daniel Birkenheuer of NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., won the agency's Technology Transfer Award for development of the system. The awards will be presented at a ceremony on October 22 at NOAA's Silver Spring, Md., campus.


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