Army Suspends Use of T-11 Parachute

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From the Army Times, Jul. 8, 2011, By Lance M. Bacon

Army suspends use of T-11 parachute

Announcement comes 2 weeks after the death of Fort Bragg soldier

The T-11 parachute is shown during a jump at Fort Benning, Ga.

The T-11 parachute is shown during a jump at Fort Benning, Ga. (Army)

 The Army on Friday morning suspended all use of the new T-11 Advanced Tactical Parachute System. The announcement comes two weeks after the death of an 82nd Airborne paratrooper, the first fatality involving the new chute, and exactly one month after the Army placed safety restrictions on the T-11 after officials at the Pathfinder School at Fort Benning, Ga., questioned whether published wind drift offset factors were accurate.

Staff Sgt. Jamal Clay's June 25 death at Fort Bragg, N.C., was due to a parachute malfunction and was unrelated to the previous restriction, officials said.

This latest restriction, outlined in All Army Action 251/2011, is due to "potential packing, inspection, quality control and functionality problems," according to the message. The problems were uncovered during the investigation into Clay's death. Investigators identified problems in the packing process. An inspection of 10 T-11 parachutes revealed tangled pack assist loops, improper corner arm folds, improperly stowed bridle, twists in the top of the canopy, and failed 14-pound pull tests of reserve chutes. "The observations are significant and pervasive enough to indicate potential systemic shortfalls," the message said.

The suspension halts all jumps and packing operations using the T-11. It is in effect until the final investigation board report is filed and necessary changes are implemented.

The June 11 safety restrictions, issued after published wind drift offset factors were questioned, are outlined in All Army Action message 227/2011. Those restrictions said ground marker and verbally initiated release system operations using the T-11 are not recommended until more tests are done by the Airborne Test Board. The message also quotes an Army Developmental Test Command memo that cautions, "If jumpers exit a high performance aircraft (C-130/C-17) above 1,250ft [above ground level], there is a realistic chance that several paratroopers will land off the drop zone or be dragged across the ground after landing."

Clay had jumped from 800 feet, according to 82nd Airborne Division officials.

The T-11, which is designed for a slower descent, has seen a rate of 1.2 injuries every 1,000 jumps, while the T-10 averages three, according to Army data. The new design also results in 49 percent less landing force when soldiers hit the ground.

The T-11's three-phase deployment uses aids and a drogue parachute attached to a bridle line. There is no lift until jumpers are 275 feet from the aircraft, so two seconds must be added to the T-10's traditional four-second count. The larger canopy also provides a smoother rate of descent while accommodating more weight.

T-10 - Underside view of a T-10 parachute. The U.S. Army has been using the T-10 parachute since 1952.

T-10 - Underside view of a T-10 parachute. The U.S. Army has been using the T-10 parachute since 1952.

The T-10, which has been in service for more than 50 years, has a rate of descent of 22 to 24 feet per second and a maximum load of 360 pounds. The T-11's rate of descent is 18 feet per second, and it can hold up to 400 pounds.

The T-11's larger canopy catches more drift. Pulling a slip to avoid other jumpers is futile, and bagging the canopy on windy days can be challenging, jumpers told Army Times. But statistics show the T-11 is far safer than the T-10 if jumpers become entangled in the air.

Questions that caused the recent restrictions should be answered by summer's end, said Col. William Cole, the Army's program manager for Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment.