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MREs From Heaven

Using “Fluttering” to Feed Disaster Victims—The Tri-wall Aerial Delivery System

TRIADS Air-DropAccording to an Associated Press news story, weeks after the quake, some food aid is still locked in warehouses or being stolen by thugs. This is not surprising, and is to be expected in a disaster like this—especially one where all the prisons collapsed.

This is a crying shame, because the U.S. Military has a way to distribute the food fairly, so that everyone can get at least some food, without the machete-wielding thugs grabbing it in bulk.

Fluttering food is the process of dropping foil-wrapped packets of food directly from the rear of cargo aircraft, so that the food is distributed widely such that gangs, thugs, and the military can’t monopolize access to the supplies.

This 4-minute YouTube video shows it being used in Afghanistan during 2001, with a C-17 dropping tens of thousands of food packets:

Far from being an experimental idea, this scheme was used to feed war-torn refugees in Bosnia and Afghanistan, and is documented in the U.S. military’s humanitarian relief operations guide (see below), and even has a typical military name and acronym—TRIADS, for Tri-wall Aerial Delivery System. (So-named because a key element is the use of triple-layered cardboard boxes to contain the food packets until they leave the plane.)

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MREs From Heaven

This system was used in Bosnia and Afghanistan, and can distribute over 32,000 MREs per C-17 drop (816 MREs in each of the 40 TRIAD boxes it can carry). Because a TRIAD package can be assembled, rigged, and loaded far more quickly than with the parachute-based air-drops, and because there is no additional ground transport required, TRIADS can deliver far more food to far more people in less time than any other method that can be deployed in Haiti, or any other disaster. It also is much less costly than the parachute-based air-drops, which means far more food can be delivered for each donated dollar.

There are several types of foods that have been used in the actual 1993 and 2001 feeding operations, most of which are readily ordered through the U.S. military’s standard supply chain via National Stock Numbers, or NSNs):

Additionally, these items should be tested for use in future disasters:

Background and Documentation

TRIADS is documented in the U.S. Army Field Manual 4-20.147/Air Force TO 13C7-37-31, “AIRDROP OF SUPPLIES AND EQUIPMENT: Humanitarian Airdrop”, which is available to the public as a PDF document:

Dropping food from airplanes—without parachutes?
These class notes of U.C. Berkeley professor Richard Muller (author of Physics for Future Presidents) demonstrate
how to calculate the velocity at which objects fall, taking into account their air resistance.

High-Tech Cardboard Boxes Used In Afghan Food Airdrops describes the Tri-Wall Aerial Delivery System used in Bosnia and Afghanistan to deliver tens of thousands of MREs.

Dr. Bill Wattenburg’s pitch for dropping food from planes.

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