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New Travis AFB patient transport system supports COVID fight

Image of Soldiers in masks pushing a piece of equipment. Click to open a larger version of the image. U.S. Airmen assigned to the 60th Aerial Port and 21st Airlift Squadrons push a Negatively Pressurized Conex into a C-17 Globemaster III at Travis Air Force Base, California, Aug. 5, 2020. The NPC is certified for use on the C-17, and testing and certification is underway for use on the C-5M Super Galaxy. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lan Kim)

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TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, California -- Travis Air Force Base gained a new isolated containment chamber Aug. 5 that can safely transport up to 24 walking patients, or eight patients on a stretcher with infectious diseases, such as the novel coronavirus, aboard an aircraft.

The unit, called a Negatively Pressurized Conex, is the third of its kind, with the first two already at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, and Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Earlier this year, the Department of Defense and Air Force developed and procured the NPC in less than 30 days in response to a U.S. Transportation Joint Urgent Operational Need to transport COVID-19 patients.

Upon its arrival to Travis AFB, an NPC program manager and deputy program manager from the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Air Force Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Defense Systems Branch, or AFLCMC/WNU, inspected the conex. They also oversaw transfer of the NPC from Delta Flight Products in Atlanta, Georgia, where it was manufactured, to the cargo bay of a Travis AFB C-17 Globemaster III staged to support alert aeromedical evacuation missions.

“We were with the NPC as it was being produced,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Alexis Todaro, AFLCMC/WNU NPC program manager. “We did both inspections, as well as functional checks, to make sure the asset was performing and everything was included as contracted. We followed it to Travis and made sure the offload went smoothly. Next, we’ll work with the aeromedical team that is here training and go over a few of the features they may or may not be familiar with.”

The first operational use of an NPC took place July 1, moving 12 patients from the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility to Ramstein AB. Since then, it has undergone several iterations of testing and user feedback, Todaro said.

Compared to its predecessors, the NPC that arrived at Travis has notably bigger doors and windows to allow for better visual communication, as well as seats with increased safety factor ratings, Todaro said.

The new system will amplify Travis AFB’s current infectious disease patient transport capabilities, which consist of eight Transport Isolation Systems.

The TIS, which has been the primary means for the Air Force to transport COVID-19 patients since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, is only capable of transporting up to four patients.

The NPC has a greater capacity of transporting up to 30 aircraft passengers and multiple configurations to accommodate combinations of ambulatory and litter patients, as dictated by the mission, said 1st Lt. Donald Wiegner, AFLCMC/WNU NPC deputy program manager.

Due to its capacity, the NPC will become the primary transport option of COVID-19 patients within the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command area of responsibility, Todaro said.

“The Indo-Pacific fight against COVID-19 hot spots is constantly changing throughout AORs,” said Wiegner. “With the limited NPC assets available at this time, it is a strategic advantage to posture at Travis AFB as a central logistical hub for NPCs to run missions throughout the Indo-Pacific as needed to evacuate soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen so they can get the medical care they need.”

As of Aug. 7, AMC’s NPC and TIS bio-containment units have transported 190 patients total on 30 separate aeromedical evacuation missions since the first operational use of the TIS April 10.

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