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Lightweight Material for Full-Scale Parachutes


TECHNOLOGY AREAS: Materials/Processes

ACQUISITION PROGRAM: PEO Combat Support & Combat Service Support

OBJECTIVE: Develop novel materials and innovative design techniques to fabricate a low cost, lightweight, high strength, low porosity, and flexible fabric or membrane for use in parachute canopies.

DESCRIPTION: The intent of this solicitation is to develop a lightweight, high strength fabric or membrane which could be used as a replacement for current parachute fabrics at cost metrics which reduce (desired) or match the cost of current parachute fabrics. Reducing parachute equipment weight is a known concern and was expressed at the most recent General Officer Integrated Product Review Meeting. Joint Precision Airdrop Delivery System (JPADS) 2k and 10K, Maneuverable Canopy 6 (MC6) Personnel Parachute System and Advanced Tactical Parachute System (T11) are Programs on Record that have established Pre-Planned Product Improvements in place to decrease system weight and increase accuracy. For MC6 and T11 parachute canopies, reducing the weight of the fabric by a factor of two would reduce the weight of the canopy by 13% and 17% respectively. In addition to full-scale parachutes, lightweight and flexible fabrics also have applications for fabrication of small-scale parachute models for wind tunnel testing.

There are number of fabrics currently in use with parachute systems depending on the purpose of the parachute. For unguided parachutes, high permeability (90-200 cfm) nylon fabrics are used such as PIA-C-7020, Type II and PIA-C-7350, Types I & II, these fabrics range in weights from 1.6 to 3.5 oz/yd2.  For guided parachute systems, low permeability fabrics (0.5-3.0 cfm) such as PIA-C-44378, Types IV & VI and PIA-C-7020 Type I are used. These fabrics are woven with ripstop, twill, or hybrid ripstop/twill weaves. A goal of 50% weight reduction is preferred, although lesser reduction levels will be considered. It is desired to reduce the cost of the new lightweight material to levels lower than the cost of current nylon fabrics. Besides the significant reduction in weight, the newly developed material should have mechanical properties which are similar or better than the existing parachute fabrics such as break strength, elongation, durability, flexibility, chemical resistance, stability to water immersion, air permeability, etc. While the individual requirements for the material properties are listed in the fabric specification, if some parameters are not explicitly listed, the newly developed lightweight material must meet or exceed the performance of the current nylon fabrics used in parachutes. For example, although there is no abrasion resistance requirement in the PIA-C-7020 specification, it is expected the new lightweight material should achieve comparable or better performance as the current nylon material. The lightweight material could be a replacement for current parachute fabrics so the performance of the parachute system must be maintained or improved with the new material. It is essential that the developed material also meet the requirements of the Berry Amendment. 

Recent advances in textile fiber production and material fabrication make a 50% weight reduction in canopy cloth plausible. Examples of these advances include nonwoven fabrics and nanofibers. Nonwoven fabric design processes are now flexible and can systematically vary fabric areal density and permeability. Candidate processes include but are not limited to spunbonded, spunlaced, and the combination of nanofiber meltblowing and electrospinning. Since fiber stiffness depends on the fiber diameter, fabrics made from nanofibers with diameter less than 1 micrometer should offer various degrees of flexibility to match that of a full-scale parachute canopy. Therefore, fabrication of fabrics made of nanofibers using nonwoven fabric manufacturing technology appears to be a feasible approach to achieve a flexible material with a low density and low permeability. It should be noted that other solutions to this topic which are not fabrics (such as films or membranes) will be considered.

PHASE I: Develop novel fibers and innovative manufacturing technologies to fabricate a lightweight, high strength flexible material for use as a parachute fabric. Primary focus of this phase is developing a material with properties similar to Type IV, PIA-C-44378 fabric with the exception of achieving lighter weights. The objective is to reduce the weight by 50% while retaining the strength, flexibility, permeability, and other properties of the original fabric. Cost analysis should also be included to show the final cost for the new lightweight material is either reduced or match the cost of the current parachute fabric. Evidence must also be provided that the resulting fibers, fabrics, and/or materials will meet Berry Amendment requirements. Samples of the novel fibers and materials, if available, should be delivered along with a detailed report of the development and testing of the new lightweight material.

PHASE II: Phase II should include finalizing the material development from Phase I and refine its properties to achieve the desired requirements. Examine the material properties in detail and compare them with those of the current nylon fabric. Methods for increasing the production rates for the material are to be developed during Phase II. The development of additional materials which could match the performance of other traditional fabrics (such as PIA-C-7020, Type I or PIA-C-7350, Type I) while reducing their weight by a factor of 2 or more should also be conducted during Phase II. It could be possible that a single new lightweight material could replace multiple traditional parachute fabrics thereby reducing the number of fabrics used in different parachute designs. While fabrication of a parachute prototype is not required during Phase II, evidence must be provided that traditional canopy fabrication methods (i.e. sewing, stitching, etc) would be compatible with the new lightweight materials or alternative fabrication methods must be demonstrated to build confidence that parachutes could be fabricated from the new materials without a loss of the current performance capabilities from the parachute system. For example, it should be demonstrated that the strength of a seam in the new materials would be comparable to a traditionally stitched seam in the current nylon fabric. Detailed cost analysis must be provided for all developed lightweight materials showing that the cost has either been reduced or match current cost for the traditional parachute fabric which would be replaced. Evidence must also be provided that the resulting fibers, fabrics, and/or materials will meet the Berry Amendment. Required Phase II deliverables include 100 yards (42-inch width) of the new material and all pertinent material properties data along with a detailed report of the results.

PHASE III: Lightweight fabrics or materials are used extensively commercially in the area of industrial filters, medical hygiene, clothing, etc. In addition to making full scale and parachute models, lightweight materials can also be used to make model tents for wind load study, kites, model airships, etc. There are a variety of dual-use applications that a Phase III can pursue.

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