Deere Enters The Drop Zone

Extraction parachute pulls bulldozer out of the aircraft cargo bay.

In late 2012, the Royal Australian Air Force deployed a John Deere 450J bulldozer from a C-130H Hercules aircraft over the Defence’s Londonderry Drop Zone. The exercise was all part of a trial to certify this bulldozer for aerial delivery by RAAF transport aircraft, including the newer generation C-130J Hercules and C-17A Globemaster transports.

Air Movements Training & Development Unit (AMTDU)—responsible for aerial delivery development, training and load certification within the Royal Australian Air Force aimed at enhancing combat offload capabilities—undertook months of strategic planning and evaluation of the engineering requirements necessary for the safe deployment of the John Deere 450J bulldozer.

Commanding Officer of AMTDU, Wing Commander Carl Newman, said airdrops can place massive stresses on both the load and aircraft. “The objective is to ensure that airdrop of the load does not adversely impact the aircraft, and that the bulldozer is in working order after the airdrop,” he said.

"The impact of this load hitting the ground would significantly damage most family cars or commercial trucks."

At an altitude of 350m, extraction parachutes were activated to pull the bulldozer out of the aircraft cargo bay, prior to the deployment of five 30m descent parachutes, to deliver a safe descent and stable trajectory into the drop zone. This was the final heavy airdrop by the C-130H Hercules, which has been retired after three decades of valuable service in the RAAF.

“Even descending beneath five parachutes, the impact of this load hitting the ground would significantly damage most family cars or commercial trucks were they the cargo,” said Wing Commander Newman.

The total weight of the load, comprising the bulldozer, pallet, rigging and parachutes, was approximately 10,500kg. The bulldozer is utilised by the Defence’s Combat Engineer regiments to clear areas, repair runways, and prepare drop zones.

“The cooperation between Defence and industry to design and deliver a bulldozer fit to handle the stresses involved in airdrop delivery has been a great success,” said Wing Commander Newman. “This has enabled us to bring this load to trial in a much shorter timeframe than many other complex loads.”

In 2012, as part of the Australian Defence Force’s Engineering Vehicle Program, Hitachi Construction Machinery Australia delivered twenty-one specialised John Deere 450J bulldozers, which were extensively modified to be able to withstand the demands required by the military for both aerial delivery and performance in battlefield environments.

These machines integrate a split cabin design and separate lift, recovery and tie down points enabling efficient loading and despatch from aircraft. The bulldozers are also equipped with disruptive-pattern camouflage paint, an in-cab weapon rack, and 360 degree blackout lighting capabilities for night time operational activities.

“The impact of this load hitting the ground would significantly damage most family cars or commercial trucks.”

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