JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. – The lab responsible for ensuring that medical equipment is safe to operate and fly on Air Force aircraft is currently in the process of testing, collecting and analyzing data on how medical devices perform inside the Negatively Pressurized Conex (NPC) and NPC Lite prototypes while in flight.
Developed to safely transport large groups of individuals infected with the COVID-19 virus and other highly infectious diseases, and commonly referred to as isolation containers, the NPC is designed to fit inside of C-17s and C-5s, whereas the NPC Lite is designed specifically for C-130s.
Members of the Agile Combat Support Directorate’s Aeromedical Test Lab have been evaluating approximately 15 pieces of medical equipment, to see if the equipment works and if it impacts the electronics of the plane and vice versa.
“We know from experience that [medical] equipment that works well on the ground may not work as well in the air,” said Lt. Col. Carl Impastato, chief of the lab. “Our job is to ensure that when the equipment is needed, it works as intended.”
Some of the equipment the team is testing includes a ventilator, blood pressure monitor, defibrillator, blood analysis machine and other items you would see in a hospital emergency department.
“There’s a ton of equipment; however, our focus is looking at equipment that is critical to COVID-19 patients,” added Impastato.
The lab has a lot of experience evaluating the functionality of medical equipment in isolation containers.
Back in 2014, it tested equipment in the Transport Isolation System, better known as the TIS, which was developed in response to an Ebola outbreak in West Africa. In addition, it was involved in the early development stages of the Portable Bio-Chemical Module or PBCM, which the Air Force briefly considered until the NPC and NPCL concept became reality and Air Mobility Command began moving ahead with rapid procurement and full production of the new capability.
With the NPC and NPCL, the Air Force is getting isolation containers that can carry more patients than the TIS while keeping the aircrew and medical professionals on board the aircraft safe.
The data that is collected will be reviewed by engineers in multiple mission design series aircraft to determine any associated risks that would need further analysis before approval.
“It’s great to know that we are playing a very important and timely role in dealing with this current crisis,” said Tech. Sgt. Greyson Thompson, the lab’s NCO in charge. “We know that our work helps save lives, but it’s much easier to see that immediate impact given the current events and knowing that this device will help solve the problem.”