Two U.S. military cargo planes flew nearly 10,000 kilometers for almost 24 hours to make the first airdrops of American humanitarian relief supplies to displaced Afghans. The aid flights paralleled Sunday's allied air strikes against terrorist and military targets.
The aircraft were giant C-17 cargo planes. One of them was nicknamed The Spirit of Berlin in a reference to the historic U.S. airlift that kept that German city alive with supplies during the Cold War after Soviet forces sealed overland routes to the city.
Air Force officials said there are 10 crewmembers on each plane.
Colonel Robert Allardice, the Director of Airdrop Operations, supervised the mission. He said the crews were excited and thrilled to take part. "From our perspective, the drop was a great success. We think we have a pretty good handle on precision airdrops and we sought out sites that were drop zones that were close to refugee camps where people need humanitarian assistance and we were able to deliver the supplies in a fairly accurate manner," Colonel Allardice said.
Colonel Allardice said the crews dropped 35,000 Humanitarian Daily Rations, bright yellow individual meal packets. The drops took place in eastern and southern Afghanistan.
The planes flew at high altitude for the drops. No parachutes were used. Instead, the meal packets are designed to flutter to the ground.
"On board the C-17s we had 42 of what we called TRIAD containers that stands for tri-wall air delivery system," explained Colonel Allardice. "These TRIAD containers each contain a large portion of the HDRs, the Humanitarian Daily Rations. When we get to the drop zone, the C-17 depressurizes and then as we get to the precise point, the loadmaster flips a switch which releases the TRIAD containers out the back of the plane. The TRIAD containers are like a real big refrigerator. As they exit, the ends pop off and all the supplies drop out and they establish a dispersal pattern approximately one mile wide and three miles long [1.6 km by 4.8 km]."
Colonel Allardice says there were dangers associated with the mission including the threat of surface-to-air missile attack. But both planes returned to their base in Germany without incident.