JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – COVID-19 cases are rising within the U.S. military, with the Department of Defense (DoD) reporting 10,554 active cases as of July 13, and 18,016 cumulative cases overall.
To transport infected personnel without infecting others, use of the Transport Isolation System (TIS) was implemented in early April. Joint Base Charleston (JBC) was designated as the sole training hub for the roll-aboard aircraft-based pathogen containment system. Since the inaugural mission on April 10, TIS has been used to successfully transport multiple service members and contractors for treatment.
Despite its usefulness, TIS only has the capacity to transfer between two and four patients at a time. To accommodate the transport of more infected passengers without compromising the health of the rest of the crew, officials began developing another transport system, the Negatively Pressurized Conex (NPC), which was also spearheaded at JBC.
The NPC is a physical chamber that can be rolled onto a C-17 or a C-5 Super Galaxy aircraft. An NPC-Lite version was designed for the C-130 Hercules as well. The chamber has the capacity for 28 passengers. The configuration of the chamber can be adjusted to accommodate different numbers of ambulatory patients as well.
According to Lt. Col. Paul Hendrickson, the NPC “went from an idea on a napkin to a proven concept” in less than a month, and from concept to delivery in only 88 days.
Operational testing of the NPC began at JBC in early June, when “teams from across the country…gathered at Joint Base Charleston to assess the NPC and ensure it met four main requirements.” The requirements included virus containment, ease of use for aeromedical teams, airworthiness, and safety in flight.
By June 24, the first NPC arrived at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, along with “16 experts from JBC and three members of the program office team to stand on alert status and train additional Airmen on the NPC.”
Less than a week later on July 1, a C-17 Globemaster III assigned to the 437th Airlift Wing at JBC completed the first operational use of the NPC, transporting “12 patients from the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility to Ramstein Air Base, Germany.”
To date, over 100 patients have been successfully transported over 18 missions, using either the TIS or NPC.