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Low Altitude Parachute Extraction System (LAPES) is a tactical military airlift delivery method where a fixed wing cargo aircraft can deposit supplies when landing is not an option in an area that is too small to accurately parachute supplies from a high altitude.


This method was developed by the US Military with the assistance of the 109th Quartemaster Company (Air Drop) in 1964. In May 1965 a detachment of the 109th was formed as the 383rd Quartermaster (Aerial Supply) Detachment and sent to Viet Nam. In 1966 the 109th was sent to Viet Nam and took operational control of the 383rd. Both units provided Air Drop and LAPES support during the Siege of Khe Sanhmarker in the Vietnam War. LAPES was used to provide a method of supplying heavy loads into Khe Sahn which could not effectively be supplied by air drop. This practice was perfected at Mactan Air Basemarker in Cebumarker, the Philippinesmarker.

LAPES involves loading supplies on a special pallet on a plane. Once a plane reaches the desired drop point, the pilot descends to a very low altitude of typically under 2 m. Once achieved, the cargo hatch is opened and the extraction parachute is deployed; once the parachute catches the wind outside the craft, it pulls the connected supplies out of the plane and on to the ground. Once the delivery is accomplished, the pilot ascends to a normal altitude and returns to base.

This method allows planes to keep in motion and present as difficult a target for enemy forces as possible while still delivering its cargo in a prompt fashion. However, the drop sequence's low altitude allows for no margin for pilot error and a plane crash is a real danger.

On July 1st 1987 during a Capabilities exercise (CAPEX) a USAF C-130E (68-10945 c/n 4325) crashed while performing a LAPES demo at the Sicily Drop Zone, on Ft. Bragg. The pilot of the C-130 had performed a LAPES drop with the same extreme rate of descent 2 days earlier during a practice run. The crash killed three on board, one soldier on the ground, and injured two crew.

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