EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif: Officials here are creating a guardian angel system to help Air Force members who parachute to land safely and softly.

Officials are replacing the Air Force’s nearly five-decades-old parachute system with a new one, called the Guardian Angel Advance Parachute System, which is designed for safer landings at higher altitudes.

Officials from the Air Force’s official parachute test organization, which falls under the 418th Flight Test Squadron, are creating this new system.

GAAPS is a threefold system, which includes a freefall parachute system, a static-line parachute and a tandem parachute system. The parachute’s canopy is made with a special type of fabric designed to allow the user to land at high altitudes.

“With the current systems, the descent rate is too fast at high altitudes,” said 2nd Lt. Jonathan Sepp, a 418th airdrop engineer. “That’s because our current systems were designed in the 1960s for landing at sea level, and that worked (well) for them then, but now we’re in Afghanistan, so we have to develop something for the modern warfighter who has to land in austere mountain conditions.”

GAAPS is designed to fit a variety of missions for rescue professionals. To accommodate a variety of mission needs, each of the parachute systems fits different situations.

A single pararescueman jumping into adverse terrain with a load of gear would typically use the single free fall system. In other cases, a pararescueman with a load of gear may need to be inserted low and fast, and will not need to steer the parachute. In that case he would use the static-line system. If a pararescueman needed to bring a medic with him, he could put the medic on a second harness connected to him, jumping with the tandem system.

With the team going into its third year of testing, safety is paramount and ensuring that a parachute system is safe requires a lot of scrupulous testing, Lieutenant Sepp said.

“We started testing in 2009. There have been a few road blocks that we ran into because experimental parachutes have a lot of things that have to be worked out before you give it the 100-percent thumbs up,” Lieutenant Sepp said.

“We make sure the testing is really thorough and that we’ve worked out every kink before we even think about approving a system,” he said.

The tests begin with functional testing on the ground to ensure that when the user tries to operate it, it will work the way it was intended.

“We started with different ground tests, like seeing how hard it is to pull certain handles and tensile tests on the ground to make sure certain things aren’t going to break in the air when you strap a lot of weight to it,” the lieutenant said.

“Currently, we’re performing dummy tests where we strap the parachute to a dummy that simulates a human being, and push it out of an airplane to see how the system actually works in air,” he said. “Then you have a lot of review boards, and that leads to live-jump testing where you actually put it on the test parachutists. After the test parachutists jump with it they review it and tell us how things worked.”

While GAAPS is being created primarily for use by Air Force pararescuemen, Lieutenant Sepp said he believes that once this system is implemented it will be the primary system used by every military branch.

“The parachutes are designed for pararescuemen who are going to be landing in austere mountain conditions to rescue personnel,” Lieutenant Sepp said. “But GAAPS is also going to take over for a lot of the current parachute systems and potentially be applied across the Air Force and the rest of the military once it’s approved.

“The systems the Air Force has now are getting older, out of date and worn out so we need to replace them with new parachute systems and GAAPS is going to do that for us,” he said. “It’s going to allow people to land in a safer manner, carry more gear and accomplish the mission more effectively than they could’ve with the parachute systems we currently have.”

The GAAPS testing is scheduled to wrap up around the end of February 2011.