Since it began using parachutes in 1943, the U.S. Army has tracked and managed the equipment via manual methods that are labor-intensive, error-prone and susceptible to malicious tampering. In the early 2000s, the Army reclassified personal parachute systems, as well as other aerial-delivery equipment used by military personnel, and required that these items be managed using individual serial numbers. But serial number management would require an automated solution in order to be effective.
To address this challenge, the Army's Automated Identification and Movement Solutions (AMIS) division, in Alexandria, Va., created an enhanced Parachute Tracking System (ePTS) that employs radio frequency identification to provide end-to-end, verifiable chain-of-custody accountability, traceability and airworthiness of a sophisticated new family of personal parachute systems in support of global military operations. This enables the Army to view and manage main and reserve parachute processes, such as warehousing, inventory, packing, shipping, jumping and recovery.
Looking for Improvements
In April 2008, AMIS product director Jim Alexander and other managers set out to find a solution for tracking parachutes. They concluded that an automatic identification technology (AIT) was required that would perform equally well whether a parachute was packed or unpacked. When a parachute is packed, Keys explains, its identifying labels are easily accessed, but for an unpacked parachute, personnel must search for the label in order for it to be read.
"Other AIT, such as bar codes, could not be utilized, as line-of-sight visibility would be lost when the T-11 [parachute] was in a packed status," Keys states. "Active RFID could meet the performance requirements. However, cost avoidance dictated that passive RFID would be the preferred solution."
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