The exercise began with the troops cross-training on the different nations’ equipment – and getting the chance as well to earn each other’s national jump wings. Led by the soldiers of the French Army’s 11th Parachute Brigade, the force of approximately 1,000 airborne troops from France, Germany, the US, Spain and the UK moved into the tactical operation phase of the exercise.
Troops were dropped from French and US aircraft at the military camp of Caylus (Tarn-et-Garonne). They then proceeded to secure and enlarge the air head, and move out into attacking and securing key objectives to enlarge the area under their control – thus enabling follow-on forces to land and build up a forward operating base for further combat and stabilization operations.
National Airborne Day on Aug. 16 honors the occassion of the first official parachute jump of the US Army, conducted on this date in 1940, by the volunteer Soldiers of the Parachute Test Platoon. Other nations had already established Airborne Forces even before the US of course, including Italy, Germany, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and even France. The Canadian Army established its first airborne unit in July 1942.
Military parachuting has come a long way since those early experimental drops, and many lessons were also learned the hard way from the combat parachute drops during the Second World War. Today’s Paratroops jump from turbo-prop and jet-powered aircraft as well as helicopters using either a static-line to automatically deploy their parachute, or by freefalling and then manually pulling a so-called ‘rip cord’ to deploy their ‘chute – and modern parachutes also come with non-steerable and steerable round canopies for normal operations, or highly-manueverable ‘ram-air’ square canopies for special operations.
Current-day US Army Paratroopers jump from a C-130 using the new, cruciform-shape canopied T-11 non-steerable parachute. The T-11 system has replaced the T-10 parachute that was in use for over 50 years.
Leapfest is the largest, longest standing, international static-line parachute competition. It is hosted each year by the 56th Troop Command of the Rhode Island Army National Guard to promote training and esprit de corps within the international airborne community.
Leapfest is both an individual and team event – each jumper must complete 2 jumps to be qualified for the individual award, and each team must complete 8 jumps in total to be qualified for the team award. Each team consists of 5 participants: 4 jumpers and 1 alternate jumper.
Jumpers exit from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter at an altitude of 1500 feet (457 meters) using an MC-6 static line deployed, steerable, parabolic parachute and aim to land as close as possible to a marked, designated ‘X-marks-the-spot’ on the Drop Zone.