Texas Tech University

Engineering Professor Looking to Mitigate Injury Risks for Military Free-Fall Jumpers

Allen Ramsey

February 10, 2022

Texas Tech’s James Yang received a grant to study the impact of parachute opening shock in paratroops.

Texas Tech University's James Yang, a professor and the Ed and Linda Whitacre Faculty Fellow in the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering's Department of Mechanical Engineering, received a $450,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) Army Medical Research and Development Command (USAMRDC) to model the biometrics of parachute opening shock.

James Yang
James Yang

Yang's goal is to develop a multiscale human model to conduct biomechanical analyses assessing potential injuries for parachutists during parachute opening shock. The results will be used by instructors and developers to prevent, reduce, screen and diagnose musculoskeletal injuries in military free-fall parachute jumps.

His research is designed to lower injury rates by gaining an understanding of how a paratrooper's body reacts within a few seconds of the parachute opening.

“For paratroops, they've only measured kinematics, velocity and acceleration,” Yang said. “But they have no idea what's happening inside the human body. In training and in missions they have quite a few injuries. The injuries don't happen just through parachute open shock, but this project is specifically to study that aspect.

“Later we'll do other aspects. The DOD is interested in what happens from the time soldiers jump out to the landing, so this is just the first project we will be working on.”

Military free-fall jumps differ from civilian skydiving in that military jumps come from higher altitudes and with heavier combat loads, leading to increased rates of injury among military parachutists.

“We are very proud of Dr. Yang's research activities,” said Al Sacco Jr., dean of the College Engineering. “His latest work on simulating biomechanics to prepare trainees for opening shock is timely and important. Having been trained as a parachutist, I can tell you this simulation on opening shock will serve our military well. This is an excellent example of our faculty and students doing research for their community and the nation.”

The project uses portable sensors attached to the bodies of military free-fall jumpers, allowing Yang to collect dynamic data and gain a better understanding of how the human body responds to the force generated when a parachute opens.

“We're going to work with real soldiers,” Yang said. “We want to see what happens in the body whenever a paratrooper opens the chute. After you understand that, the whole thing has a huge impact. We can improve capability and safety for all those people.”

Yang's research is part of a larger effort by the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory (USAARL) and the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) entitled “Parachute Health Hazard Effects.” The study seeks to improve the capabilities and safety of parachute operations through a deeper understanding of the adverse biomechanical health effects associated with military free-fall parachute jumps.

“Our soldiers are our most important asset,” said Song-Charng Kong, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. “Dr. Yang's research will mitigate the health risks in parachuting and provide additional protection to our soldiers. The health benefits to the soldiers go far beyond their military careers. The impact of Dr. Yang's work is tremendous.”