from A Grandpa's Notebook, Meyer Moldeven

Memoir: Parachute Logistics, Korean War, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, 1949-1950


This memoir concerns a decision I made at the outbreak of the Korean War for procurement of aircrew emergency bailout parachutes for the United States Air Force (USAF). Context, chronology, and USAF aircraft types operating in the Korean Theater at the time are to the best of my recollections and references available from public libraries and the Internet. 'AFMC' (Air Force Materiel Command), as used in this memoir, identifies the USAF command responsible for acquisition and logistics management of USAF materiel and supplies and applies to the same organization under its prior designations. Opinions expressed herein are those of the writer and not necessarily those of military or civilian personnel of the United States Air Force or the Department of Defense.

Note: The technical design and operation of military man-carrying parachutes has advanced enormously since WW2 and the Korean War, as have parachute servicing, packing and maintenance methodologies. The Korean War in general began with the weapons and equipment of WW2. Where significant shortages of vital equipment existed or were otherwise considered certain to occur, procurements were initiated, taking into account acquisition 'lead time' and the pipeline to the ultimate user.


Rather than procure 50,000 man-carrying (emergency bailout) parachutes as complete assemblies, e.g., in which the canopy's suspension lines are permanently connected at time of manufacture to the harness and through the harness to the canopy container (pack), as in the past, the AFMC procurement initiated in 1950 was by major components (canopy, harness, and canopy container (pack)). The components were subsequently assembled into one of three 'standard' types of complete parachutes, as needed, by certified technicians in- house at AFMC supply and maintenance depots to meet priority needs in Korea and for related support activities.


In 1949, the Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson cut back radically the Armed Forces' programs for weapons and support systems. The Korean War, in which the Soviet Union and Communist China openly supported and militarily joined North Korea against the United Nations, was launched the following year.

In the early '50s, Hqs AFMC had Command jurisdiction of 8 major industrial depots and at least an equal number of sub-depots and special activities throughout the continental U S and in foreign countries (Europe, Philippines, Japan, Middle East, North Africa, etc.)

For several years following the end of WW2 and creation of the autonomous Air Force the logistical missions, organizations, and personnel policies for active duty military and civil service personnel experienced important changes in their management, location, and performance of functions. The changes were reflected in chain of command, consolidation and/or wholesale reassignment of materiel property classes, Hqs components and field organizations, transferring or eliminating low priority workloads and assuming new missions and industrial workloads. Concurrently, the worldwide Cold War and its effects steadily increased in scope and intensity throughout Europe, Africa, and the Far East. Extensive and ongoing reductions-in-force among military and civil service personnel accompanied a nationwide conversion from war to civilian economies.

In 1950, shortly before US military action in Korea (see June 30, 1950 in Time Line), I was assigned to supervise several supply technicians. The primary function of my group was to determine USAF worldwide requirements and distribution for emergency survival equipment which included parachutes, aircrew emergency life preservers, emergency survival kits and their components, and other aircrew personal emergency gear for USAF-worldwide.

Parachutes then in the possession of USAF field commands and in back-up supply warehouses throughout the world had been procured for WW2, which had ended 5 years previously. An unknown quantity of parachutes in warehouse storage at USAF installations had been declared excess to requirements or were close to their maximum authorized 'years in service since dates of manufacture' (the date of manufacture was stamped on the canopy). At the 'maximum' age of 7 years, personnel parachutes were, by USAF regulation, to be removed from further service for aircrew emergency bailout, although they could be used for cargo drops.

Computing quantities of serviceable parachutes and spare parts to be on hand Computing quantities of serviceable parachutes and spare parts to be on hand for the USAF active and programmed aircraft inventory was made by type of parachute, e.g., seat, back or chest, as applicable to aircraft type. Parachute type depended on crewmember or passenger stations; space available in cockpit and cabin; access to and through emergency exits; and the aircrew member's weight, e.g., aircrew or passengers above a certain total weight (body weight plus flight clothing, emergency kit, flotation gear plus the parachute) were entitled to a parachute having a larger diameter canopy.) Based on aircraft type and aircrew stations (or special circumstances) the harness of a 'quick attachable chest' chute (QAC) might also be worn in flight and the pack hooked to it before bailout.

Requirements computations for parachutes took into account quantities in service by type (back, seat, chest), in the pipeline, and in back-up warehouse storage (serviceable and repairable). Information on quantity and condition of parachutes in storage was not reliable in the years immediately following the end of WW2.

Translating a requirement into acquisition called for justifying funds, ensuring that procurement and manufacturing specifications and tech data were current, and initiating and monitoring acquisition documents. New production parachutes from a commercial source received an acceptance inspection before being shipped to a USAF regional or property class depot or directly to the base supply activity where the requirement existed. There, the parachutes was scheduled to the base parachute shop (part of the Maintenance function) where it received an Air Force directed technical inspection, aired, pre-pack re-inspection, packed for service, post-pack inspection a supervisor or certified inspector and returned to 'Supply' for further processing to complete the requisitioning transaction.

USAF parachutes procured from a commercial contractor (manufacturer) are normally shipped unpacked (that is, with the canopy rolled up loosely in the canopy container (pack) and the 4 webbing harness risers permanently connected to the canopy suspension lines by 4 stainless steel links; six suspension (shroud) lines tied and permanently stitched to each link. When suspension lines and harness webbing are so stitched, undoing the stitches weakens reliability at vital points; damaged suspension lines and harnesses must be replaced.

The servicing and packing log, which is marked with the same USAF serial number as the parachute pack and canopy, is signed by the rigger and inserted in a pocket on the pack assembly During WW2 and on into the '50s USAF certified military and civil service parachute riggers prepared parachutes for service.

Time Line Actions

The following events on the Korean War time line had logistics implications.

-- 1948 April 8 - US troops ordered withdrawn from Korea on orders from President Harry S. Truman.
-- 1949 June 29 - Last US troops withdrawn from South Korea.
-- 1950 June 30 - President Truman orders US ground forces into Korea and authorizes the bombing of North Korea by the US Air Force. US troops are notified of their deployment to South Korea.

I recall that the morning following President Truman's order to the Armed Forces to initiate military action in Korea the military chief of the Hqs AFMC Equipment Division, Directorate of Supply, strode along the 'supervisors' row in the office where I worked. He was accompanied by my Branch Chief who was responsible for specified categories of military equipment and supplies, including those assigned to me. Pointing to each supervisor (or desk if it was unattended at the moment) the Division Chief briefly consulted with the Branch Chief, then read off a dollar amount from a spreadsheet he held in his hand. The dollar amount for my area of responsibility was $25 million, as a starter.

Immediately upon the Division Chief's departure, the Branch Chief assembled his subordinate supervisors and directed that the $-amounts cited were mandatory totals for Purchase Requests (PRs) from each to be his office at the start of business the following day. He would review them and, upon his approval, have them hand-carried to the Division office. The PRs were to be for most urgently needed equipment and supplies to support current and 'programmed' USAF operations in Korea.


My highest priorities for USAF in Korea were aircrew parachutes, aircraft emergency life preservers, aircrew emergency bailout survival kits (attached to parachute harnesses), oxygen masks, and components ('components,' for instance, took into account that inflatable life preservers are not much help to an aircrew member floating in the sea if the CO2 inflation cartridges had not been checked and installed or had been discharged for an unauthorized purpose. Life vest checklists directed that inflatable life vests would be examined by the wearer or a technician before donning to ensure that the neoprene inner bladders, mouth inflation tube connections, and inflation CO2 cartridges and levers were intact. It was not unusual to find that the CO2 cartridges were missing or the cartridge seals pierced and the cartridge empty.

Insofar as parachutes were concerned, 'components' included replacements for damaged ripcords (pins bent, cable kinked), pilot chutes, harnesses, canopy containers (packs), attached emergency kits, etc.

As US-UNCommnd forces in Korea intensified combat operations, the urgent need for parachutes, aircraft life preservers and other survival and escape-and-evasion gear increased. The United Nations Command included the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, Belgium, Greece, Canada and Thailand and other nations.

USAF aircraft in the Korean Theater included the P-51, F-80, F-86, B-29, KC-50, C-46, C-47, C-54, C-82, C-118, C-119 and C-121.

The F-51 (Mustang) role in Korea was ground attack. The F-80 (Shooting Star) was the first operational American jet fighter and a major weapon system of the Korean War. The F-80 recorded the first USAF aerial victories in June 1950. The F-80's high accident rate in the early years of the war was attributed to pilots familiar with propeller-driven aircraft transitioning to the faster and more powerful jets. The F-80 was used for ground support after it was replaced by the F-86 in air superiority tactics. In effect, the USAF was experiencing a major transition from relatively slow propeller-driven to much higher speed jet aircraft - in the middle of an intense air war. The transformation involved upgrade training for jet aircraft air and ground crews, line and support shops technicians were in practically OJT (on the job training), revamping test and maintenance facilities, acquiring and shipping maintenance new tools and equipment, skills, procedures, tech data, etc. Among these drastic and far-reaching changes, parachute compatibility with aircraft was one among thousands.

The F-86 jet had entered service in 1949, about one year before the start of the Korean War. Hundreds of F-86s and other aircraft, as well as aircraft support and personal equipment were provided to allied nations under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program (MDAP).

The total additional quantity required for USAF's immediate needs in Korea and for other developing or programmed USAF operations worldwide was 50,000 parachutes and maintenance spares. The U.S. was well along in its conversion and retooling to a civilian economy that would concentrate on meeting the pent up needs of the populace. A one-shot relatively short-duration production program for a distant 'police action' did not represent a sound investment to industry.

Considering the time required by prime contractors to reactivate (actually to recreate) product lines, install manufacturing equipment plus acquisition of materials, parachute hardware, manufacturing tools and skills; acquire components through outsource or in-house-manufacture, and lead time to integrate production and assembly, and ship complete parachutes, etc., was much too long. It got down to how many of each type parachute (seat, back or chest) was most urgently needed, and how could we get the right types and number of parachutes to where they had to be. What was the mix of parachute types to be procured commercially, checked through the USAF internal quality assurance process, and shipped (packed or unpacked based on circumstances) to meet Korean Theater needs in a combat environment and rapid changes in the Theater's types of aircraft?

A 'complete' parachute, as procured during WW2 consisted of all of its components assembled and permanently connected to each other, except for the pilot parachute, ripcord, and 6 bungee/hook assemblies, all of which were installed by the rigger during the pack-for-service process. When the shroud lines, canopy and pilot 'chute are folded into the 'pack' (container) and the flaps brought up from the sides and over to enclose the canopy, the ripcord pins inserted through holes in the cones are brought up through grommets in the opposing flaps.

The bungee (elastic) cords are hooked to eyes along the packs frame so that they snap the flaps back when the ripcord is pulled to clear the way for the pilot 'chute to eject and draw the main canopy out to full extension. The ripcord cable is run through a sleeve of which one end ferrule is fastened to the harness webbing and the other end to the pack side flap in line with the canopy release cones. When the ripcord is pulled, the direction of its withdrawal is from the canopy pack across the wearer's chest.

Based on my experience in parachute maintenance in the Pacific during WW2 and consultations on this procurement action with Hqs AFMC maintenance professionals, Wright Air Development Center parachute engineers and AeroMedical Laboratory survival specialists, I concluded the best approach would be for several contractors to provide USAF with canopies, harnesses and packs, separately. Small items such as ripcords, pilot chutes, bungees, etc., could be procured independently from qualified sources. The AFMC depot and/or operating wing's Supply function and Maintenance certified parachute riggers would take it from there and connect the canopies to the right harnesses and packs for the job, pack for service, and get the parachutes to where they were needed.

I initiated the Purchase Requests, got coordination on technical accuracy of procurement data from the parachute engineers and Maintenance technical services. To my knowledge contracts were awarded.

Not long afterward, I learned that several major contractors were unhappy with acquisition by major components. I was criticized by supervision for what I did and notified (informally) that an 'action' might be taken. As it turned out, I was 'transferred' to the Hq AFMC Directorate of Maintenance to analyze deficiencies reported from the field on aircrew (personal) emergency equipment, and to write maintenance and inspections manuals and technical orders for that type of equipment.

About a year or so after my transfer from Supply the individual who took my job in the Supply Directorate told me, in the presence of my former unit's employees, that my decision had been 'right'. I didn't ask for details.

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