Drop Test at Esrange – David’s Story

So Me (David) and Mikko arrived at Esrange on sunday the  22:nd of August feeling quite prepared but at the same time knowing there were still a few issues to be solved. We began working on preparing the DT-FFU’s first thing after brekfast on monday morning in what is called the “Cathedral” next to the balloon pad. After lunch Gustav arrived and joined the team. The weather outside was unstable with low clouds and during the morning it had been raining. So the verdict from Olle was to cancel flight and drop on monday and instead focus on planning and fixing everything thoroughly and do an early bird on tuesday morning.

The drop test team was supposed to concist of Me, Olle, Mikko and Gustav and the test itself was supposed to be a relatively small operation, or at least that was the picture we of the SQUID team had. But before we knew it this had in fact turned out to be quite a large opearation with the risk analysis having to go through the Esrange safety board, two more people joining us (Mark and Tomas from Esrange), mission overview and briefing etc, people in the operations central both in the Esrange main building and at the balloon pad.

During the afternoon we had the first mission meeting where we went through the drop procedure, checked from which direction the aircraft would fly in over the balloon pad, commands that were gonna be used, where people were supposed to be posted and so on. After the mission overview meeting everything finally started to feel very serious and real, and cool of course, this was the moment I started to feel a bit anxious.

Afterwards the team continued preparing the Drop-Test FFU’s for being thrown out from the airplane. We encountered a problem with cutter times not being consistent but pinpointed the problem to a manufacturing error. Fortunately we had one spare cutter which made two of the cutter units working as expected. Finally having this problem solved we proceeded to packing the parachute for the final time. When placing the top plate, closing and locking the FFU you could not help but feel even more anxious as this could be the last time we actually saw these models and the thought “hope we did everything correctly” was ringin through my head the rest of the night.

But anyhow finally the two units were ready and we proceeded to go to sleep. Falling asleep was not that hard as we were extremely worn out but I could not help going through the test procedure in my head as I was the one who was going to sit in the aircraft behind Olle and throw out the FFU’s. The anxiety was starting to take over completely but could not, fortunately, overwhelm the tiredness, so I fell asleep.

Next morning the first thing the team did was to run up to the “Cathedral” and check that the FFU’s were ok, which they were. The sky was clear and the sun was shining, weather looked perfect and we knew that today will be the day. Proceeding to have a nice breakfast which afterwards immediately was followed by the final mission breifing made the nervousness start to come back and tension started to build up a bit. Going through the mission everything seemed clear and ok for drop test. So me and Olle packed the FFU’s and headed to the amphibious aircraft which was stationed about 1 hour ride away from Esrange, while the ground crew did their preparations and got into positions.

Finally at the aircraft me and Olle practiced the drop procedure with a dummy (cookie jar) about five times before both of us felt confident with the commands and procedures.  Afterwards we loaded the units and took of heading for Esrange.

Well over Esrange we established contact with ground operations, checking we had the go for commencing the test. Upon reciving clearance from operations we turned in on a base leg for the balloon pad and the door was opened. The wind was really strong and it became really cold inside the aircraft. Finally turning in towards the final for the first practice drop with a dummy Olle called out “One minute” which meant one minute to drop and I switched on the imaginary power switch to the FFU (cookie jar in this case) and screamed confirmed, meaning the unit was activated and ready. Shortly after that Olle called “activate” whereafter i pushed the imaginary cutter start button and started the count to drop 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 then I threw it. Now I had felt how it was to actually throw something out of an aircraft and must say its not as easy as it sounds, the wind is blowing really hard which makes things hard and also it was very cold.

So now we proceeded with the first sharp drop after recieving clearance from operations. The same procedure as above took place but now with the real DT-FFU unit A. When switching on power i got confimation of system ok by the LED light installed. Then the signal cam to activate and the button was pushed and i started counting. Positioning myself into the practice drop position while counting the LED flashes up to ten the DROP. The FFU was deployed and fell, immediately Olle turned the aircraft and we got very good visual on the falling unit. Waiting waiting, hoping to see the red parachute and finally I saw it. The parachute deployed perfectly and the unit was slowly descending beautifully down to earth. Wohoooo! Confirmation came from ground that they had visual on the parachute and tracked it.  Second drop could commence with DT-FFU B which was equipped with a camera.

So same procedure again, power activation, status ok, cold air blowing and finally “Activate”. The unit fell and once again we turned around and tracked it. Falling, falling but no parachute. By this time it had fallen much longer than the A unit and both me and Olle was sure that this one would impact and be completely destroyed when suddenly we saw the red parachute deploying. Not long afterwards the unit touched ground and we laughed inside the aircraft at those margins. Calling on radio and concluding the test it was time to have some fun so we turned the aircraft around and came in low above the ground team for a victory flyby which was awesome 😀 then we left Esrange and returned to where we had started.

I felt great and on my way back I was also given controls of the aircraft 😀 Could simply not wait to see the videos and pictures of the test 😀

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