On June 24, the first Negatively Pressurized Conex ready for operational use touched down at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, with 16 experts from Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina and three members of the program office team to stand on alert status and train additional Airmen on the NPC.
The NPC is configured for the C-17 Globemaster III and C-5 Super Galaxy aircraft to safely transport up to 28 passengers or 23 patients, including ambulatory and litter, around the globe, while the Negatively Pressurized Conex-Lite is a smaller variation configured to be used aboard the C-130 Hercules.
The NPC-L system was certified to be fully operational June 25.
Air Mobility Command and Air Force Materiel Command leaders joined forces early April to invite creative materiel and non-materiel solutions to address a joint urgent operational need to move large numbers of COVID-19 patients should the need for that capability arise.
“In less than 30 days, the NPC went from an idea on a napkin to a proven concept … and only 88 days from that idea to the delivery of an operational system,” said Lt. Col. Paul Hendrickson, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense material leader. “This was made possible by a team comprised of the Air Force CBRN Defense Systems Branch working with the Joint Program Executive Office for CBRN Defense and partnering with teams across the Air Force and Department of Defense.”
After putting the proof of concept NPC system through rigorous testing that ran from April 21-30; the first NPC-L was delivered June 1, at JB Charleston, followed by the first NPC on June 7, to begin testing and operational utility evaluation.
“Teams from across the country led by the Program Executive Office for Agile Combat Support, gathered at Joint Base Charleston to assess the NPC and ensure it met four main requirements,” Hendrickson said. “The NPC must one, be able to contain the virus from aircrew and the aircraft; two, be usable for aeromedical teams; three, have the potential to be certified airworthy; and four, have the potential to be safe to fly. The NPC has proven capable of satisfying all of those requirements.”
When the coronavirus outbreak began, the Air Force increased training on the Transport Isolation System, an isolation chamber developed during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, but never used in operations until April 10, when it transported COVID-positive patients from U.S. Central Command to Ramstein AB for medical treatment.
To date, the TIS has successfully transported more than 80 patients. However, it offers AMC and the Air Force limited capability, as each TIS can transport only two to four patients. The NPC will increase AMC’s capacity for patient transport, both now and in support of future requirements.
“The NPC is crucial to readiness as it not only protects our aircrews, aircraft and aeromedical evacuation teams as they transport patients, but it also protects the readiness of the locations we will move patients from,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Mach, AMC Requirements Division chief. “We need to take care of the individual infected by the virus and mitigate the chance of it spreading. The NPC allows us to perform those life-saving movements in only hours.”