JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. – Culminating with an in-flight demonstration on April 30, 2020, the Negatively Pressurized Conex (NPC) proof of concept prototype successfully proved its capability to potentially transport individuals with infectious diseases, such as COVID-19.
Air Force Materiel Command and Air Mobility Command leaders quickly joined forces in 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.
Teams from across the country led by the Program Executive Office for Agile Combat Support (PEO ACS), gathered at Joint Base Charleston, S.C. to assess the NPC and ensure it met four main requirements. 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.
“All of these assessments were pivotal to prove the capability and inform the production units design so they will be operational quickly. Procuring and demonstrating the NPC is a textbook example of rapid acquisition and development,” said Lt. Col. Paul Hendrickson, materiel leader within the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center's PEO ACS and NPC Lead. “In just nine days we have proved the NPC concepts capabilities, 21 days after contract award. I could not be prouder of this team of teams.”
In addition to test organizations, like the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center’s (AFOTEC) Det. 2, 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron, and CBRN Defense, teams from the Air Force and JPEO, medical experts worked around the clock to accomplish this task, ensuring servicemembers in various locations, to include deployed or remote, have safe transport to the medical care they need.
“We have been part of a comprehensive development team to ensure the NPC works and is practical for the medical teams who will use it,” said Lt. Col. Sarah Morton, AMC, Chief, Aeromedical Evacuation Standards and Evaluation.
Ensuring the NPC was proven capable of what it was designed to do was a combined effort of the academia, contract partners, and Department of Defense units, to include: AF CBRN Defense, JPEO CBRND, AMC/A3, AMC/A5, AMC/SG, AMC/TE, AFOTEC Det-2, 28 TES, CCDC CBC and many more.
“The entire team from the program office, test teams, aeromedical users, scientific experts and MAJCOM representatives crossed common barriers to bring this capability to reality in epic time,” said Capt. Alexis Todaro, NPC program manager. “I’ve never seen so much effort put into pushing a product that can be used to save lives and meet what the Air Force needs.”
“While this was only an observational event for AFOTEC, we were able to capitalize on the opportunity and inject some realism by having flight physiologists in the NPC,” added Capt. Dustin Taylor from AFOTEC. “This event will also help shape our OUE [operational use evaluation] on the Phase II NPC.”
AMC has agreed with the PEO ACS led team's recommendation to proceed with the NPC program based on the demonstrated proof of concept. The team will work required design changes to ensure production units meet certification requirements.
The NPC is an isolation prototype designed to fit on a C-17 or C-5. It has 28 seats for passengers, 24 seats for ambulatory patients that can be put up to hold 8 litters, or combinations thereof. Designed in response to COVID-19, the NPC can safely isolate infected or potentially infected individuals while protecting the aircrew and not contaminating the aircraft. To learn more about the NPC and what it is designed to do, read more at https://www.aflcmc.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2160388/aflcmc-led-team-delivers-isolation-container-prototype-for-testing/
For more information about the development and proof of concept of the NPC, contact AFLCMC Public Affairs at AFLCMC.PA.Personnel@us.af.mil.