USAF Testing Newly Developed System to Fly Infectious Patients
On April 21 a joint Air Force team, led by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center and the Air Force’s CBRN Defense Systems Branch, delivered a rapidly developed containment system prototype that will enable as many as 28 COVID-positive patients to be transported aboard a C-17 in response to the United States Transportation Command's Joint Urgent Operational Need (JUON).
The Negatively Pressurized Conex (NPC) is designed specifially to fit inside of a C-17 aircraft, and enable the safe transport of patients, both ambulatory and litter, and teams of medical professionals to medical facilities around the globe.
“The goal of the NPC is to help us keep infectious organisms contained, in order to prevent the aircrew, and medical professionals onboard the aircraft from being exposed,” said Capt. Alexis Todaro, NPC program manager. "The container is negatively pressurized; fans are continuously pulling the air from within the unit through high-efficiency particulate filters to prevent any exposure to the aircraft.”
The container includes an attached anteroom – also under negative pressure – where medical professionals can safely change into or out of their medical equipment in order to safely administer patient care, or exit the unit into the aircraft without risking contamination.
“We acquired one system [NPC prototype], and will put it through a series of tests to make sure it contains bio organisms, meets the needs of the aeromedical evacuation teams, and that it’s safe to fly on the C-17,” Capt. Kerollous Marzouk, program test lead for the NPC said. “After we can provide those three things, we will provide this information to leadership for a procurement decision.”
The NPC prototype to include design and fabrication was awarded to a commercial team of UTS Systems, Highland Engineering Inc., and Delta Flight Products using an Other Transactional Authority (OTA) contract. The program management team led by Todaro, and Joe Novick, NPC Deputy Program Manager (JPEO CBRND), with the support of Army Contracting Command, slashed a four month contracting award process to just seven days; with delivery of the prototype only 13 days after contract award. All associated prototype and testing cost approximately $2 million.
Following the conclusion of testing scheduled for April 30, the United States Transportation Command, and Air Mobility Command leadership will make a decision on procurement of the NPC with the expected first delivery systems arriving for operations by the end of May.
“Our goal is to provide Airmen with protective capabilities at the speed of relevance and that’s what we are doing,” said Lt. Col. Paul Hendrickson, materiel leader within AFLCMC and NPC Lead. “The prototype has the potential to provide safe transport of our Airmen, dependents and anyone needing care, while ensuring the safety of aircrew and aeromedical staff.”