FORT SILL, Okla.-Lawton and Fort Sill residents will notice an increase in military transport jets as Altus Air Force Base aircrews begin using the post's range for drop zone training starting today. Aircrews flying C-17 Globemaster III cargo jets will perform their Joint Precision Airdrop System, or JPADS, training mission in the South East Corner, which is in South Arbuckle Range.

JPADS is an airdrop system which uses GPS, a steerable parachute and an onboard computer to steer a loaded pallet to a drop site, according to an online source. It is a combination of the Army's Precision and Extended Glide Airdrop System and the Air Force's Precision Airdrop System.
"This (JPADS mission) proves the joint nature of Fort Sill and the working together and the cohesion that were trying to develop with the other military bases in the area," said Buddy Thornton, air traffic control chief and air traffic and air space officer for Fort Sill.

Drop zone training is not new to Fort Sill, Thornton said. For years, the Oklahoma Air National Guard used C-130 Hercules for low-level drops of pallets in the South East Corner. Now, C-17s will do it at a much higher altitude and with more precision.

JPADS training missions last about four hours and involve three C-17s trailing one another between 15 to 20 miles apart to simulate single ship operations, said Capt. Erik Fisher, C-17A weapons officer at Altus Air Force Base, in an e-mail interview. Altus plans to fly one or two JPADS missions per week.

The pilots will fly a rectangular pattern which has them turn over Lawton, fly between Duncan and Marlow, and head north to Rush Springs, Thornton said.

The JPADS training pallets are built with water barrels to facilitate easy breakdown and return to Altus and weigh around 1,500 pounds each, Fisher said. They are dropped from 4,700 to 5,700 feet.

"We will plan on dropping one pallet per pass, however, the C-17 can drop up to 40 containers on one pass." he said. "The system is extremely accurate and the error is much less than conventional methods."

Fort Sill was selected for the training missions because it has restricted airspace a requirement for JPADS, Thornton said. The South East Corner is an isolated area and has a drop zone. "It's a good place because there's nothing out there," he said.

The air drops won't affect any activities that are performed on the ranges, said Buddy Leavell, range operations officer. When the South East Corner is used for air drops it will be closed and notifications will have appeared in the range schedule.

Fort Sill and Altus officials are close to signing a memorandum of agreement for the JPADS training, Fisher said.

"We are excited about this opportunity to partner with Fort Sill to train our airlift students on this important mission," he said. "We have supported the Army for many years now in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom using JPADS, and look forward to doing so in the future."