FOLA, W.Va. -- Flying at about 1,000 feet above the hills of Clay County, a trio of West Virginia Air National Guard C-130s approached a 360-acre drop zone on an expanse of a reclaimed surface mine, opened their cargo ramps, and reduced their air speed to 150 miles per hour.
Near the center of the drop zone, a bright orange triangle called a raised angle marker, or RAM, marked the bulls-eye point for the impending airdrop. Next to the RAM, members of a ground crew activated a smoke canister, sending a yellow cloud billowing upward and into a brisk current of air, marking wind direction for the crews aboard the approaching aircraft.
A small extraction chute appeared at the rear of the first C-130, and as it fully deployed, began pulling a two-ton pallet of railroad ties off the ramp and into the air. As the pallet began to drop, two 64-foot parachutes attached to it filled with air and began curbing its rate of descent.
The process was repeated twice more, and within a minute, six tons of cargo were on the ground, all within about 100 yards of the RAM.
"That's a good example of why the guys on the ground in Afghanistan want West Virginia guys flying their loads," said Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, the state's adjutant general, who was among those watching an airdrop exercise at the West Virginia National Guard's new Fola drop zone on Tuesday.
The new drop zone, made available to the West Virginia National Guard at no cost by Consol Energy, replaces a practice airdrop area in Mason County previously used by the Guard. When the owner of the Mason County property opted out a lease agreement about a year ago, Guard personnel began looking for alternative sites within brief flying distance from the 130th Airlift Wing's base at Charleston's Yeager Airport.
"We heard they were looking for a new drop zone, and we had this reclaimed land available," said John Goroncy, general superintendent for Consol Energy's Fola Operations, a complex of mines, reclaimed mines and forest in a 12,000-acre tract along the Clay-Nicholas County border. "We try to be a good corporate citizen, and this was one way to show that we are. And how could you find a better way to support our troops?"
Before the new Fola drop zone opened, aircrews from the 130th had to travel to drop zones near Fort Bragg, N.C, or Youngstown, Ohio, for training drops.