Lockheed Martin has been contracted by the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to modify its WindTracer wind measurement system for precision cargo airdrops.
The system will be adapted to help C-130 and C-17 aircrews to make safer, faster and more accurate airdrops of essential supplies to US ground forces at remote locations.
As part of the contract, a prototype Precision Air Drop (PAD) unit will be designed and built by Lockheed for testing. The unit will be based on the company's commercially available WindTracer wind-profiling lidar technology.
Lockheed Martin space technology research and development group STAR Labs vice-president Dr Kenneth Washington said: "Currently air drop missions require several flyovers to accurately determine wind readings, but our WindTracer technology would eliminate the need for so many passes."
Furthermore, WindTracer will be modified into a smaller size to fit on a pallet and ruggedise it to withstand shock and vibration.
WindTracer transmits pulses of eye-safe infrared laser light that reflect off naturally occurring aerosol particles in the atmosphere, which are then moved by the wind to alter frequency of the light.
The light is scattered back to WindTracer, which then processes the return signal to determine wind conditions with extremely high accuracy.
Lockheed Martin Commercial Ventures division president Mike Hamel said: "WindTracer has been helping commercial airliners take off and land safely for years, and it is an ideal technology to support military air drops."
Currently, Windtracer systems are deployed at airports across the globe to detect hazardous winds and aircraft wakes.
Image: A small, ruggedised WindTracer will drop out of aircraft like this C-130 to evaluate atmospheric conditions for accurate air drops. Photo: courtesy of the US Air Force.