The Air Force is using special boxes to transport COVID patients

Julia LeDoux
July 07, 2020 - 8:50 am

United States Air Force

Less than 100 days after an idea for using a modified shipping container to isolate and transport COVID-19 personnel on an aircraft was sketched out on a napkin, the Air Force on July 1 flew 12 patients from the Middle East to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany for treatment.

“This milestone and the process of getting the system into the hands of our aeromedical evaluation teams and aircrew is proof we can do business at the speed of need,” said Lt.Col. Timothy Mach, Air Mobility Command Requirements Division chief in a release.

The Negatively Pressurized Conex or NPC is an isolated containment chamber that was developed to transport individuals with infectious diseases such as the coronavirus. It can carry up to 28 patients without spreading disease to the aircrew.

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The operation "brings the total number of patients retrieved by the Mobility Air Force using an isolation containment chamber to more than 100 across 18 missions since the COVID-19 pandemic began," the release said.

The NPC was developed as the result of a collaboration of civilian and military teams, according to the release.

"It took a team of teams to get NPC from a concept to operational in under 100 days, said Capt. Alexis Todaro, an NPC program manager who delivered the NPC to Ramstein for both training and site evaluation.

Multiple combinations of the box are available to accommodate both ambulatory and non-ambulatory patients, the release states.

"This was definitely not your typical patient movement mission," said Maj. Benjamin Weaver, bioenvironmental engineer and 10th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Flight NPC support lead. "It was a long 22 hours for everyone involved, but the NPC and team performed exceptionally well to make it happen."

A Transport Isolation System, or TIS, was used for the first time in April to carry three COVID-19 positive contactors from Afghanistan to Ramstein. Since then, the TIS has been used 16 more times to airlift patients.

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The NPC has been authorized to fly aboard the C-17. Certification tests are underway for the C-5M Super Galaxy. The NPC-Lite, a smaller version of the system, was certified for use aboard the  C-130 Hercules on June 25.

"I'm impressed with how quickly this idea became a fully functioning system," said Brig. Gen. Dan DeVoe, 618th Air Operations Center commander. 

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