HOWELL, Mich. --
Almost two years after the Air Force developed and fielded the first Negatively Pressurized Conex and NPC Lite, the service delivered the final NPCL to Air Mobility Command, during a ceremony on March 1.
“This marks the combination of production and delivery of all 60 [NPC and NPCL] systems,” said Lt. Col. Paul Hendrickson, materiel leader within the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Agile Combat Support Directorate and lead for NPC, NPCL. “Working with the aircraft program offices and Air Force Mobility Command, we are successfully transitioning the systems to operations and sustainment where they will continue to support the United States Transportation Command's requirements as needed.”
Developed in response to a Joint Urgent Operational Need requirement issued by the United States Transportation Command on March 28, 2020, the NPC and NPCL are designed to serve as transport modules and isolation containers for individuals infected with the COVID-19 virus and other highly infectious diseases.
Both modules are negatively pressurized and effective at containing viruses to protect aircrew members and other parts the aircraft. The modules can support multiple configurations of litter and ambulatory patients, and includes an attached anteroom where medical professionals can safety change into or out of their medical equipment in order to safely administer patient care, or exit the module into the aircraft without risking contamination. The NPC is designed to fit inside of the C-17, and the NPCL was designed specifically for C-130s but can also be used on the C-17.
An essential part of the effort to field the modules, was ensuring they were safe to fly on-board the aircraft.
“In order to ensure that these units were safe to fly for the patients, crew, and aircraft, we worked closely with the C-17 and C-130 system program offices to demonstrate their safety,” said 2nd Lt. Gunner Kral, an Engineer with the Air Force CBRN Branch, who worked tirelessly to get the final Military Flight Certification of the systems. “This was done by performing various system tests, providing system drawings and load analyses, identifying system risks, and working with the offices to ensure complete understanding of the systems.”
Over the last 18 months, the modules have participated in more than 85 aeromedical evacuations, transporting over 350 patients in need of care across all five geographic commands and six continents.
With the final system delivery, the Air Force will shift to long-term sustainment of the modules to include finalization of the technical orders, maintenance plans, training materials, logistics plans and Operational Safety, Suitability & Effectiveness support to the warfighter. Air Mobility Command is hoping the systems will remain in service for the next ten years. Additionally many international partners and allies have expressed interest in the system, and the Qatari Air Force took delivery of their own NPCL in the Fall of 2021.
““The NPC and NPCL will be in our repertoire of CBRN equipment for use in the future if and when the next pandemic occurs,” said Rebekah Less, a sustainment engineer specializing in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear - also known as CBRN - protective equipment. “Working on this project has been super exciting and a really cool opportunity for me.”
“The NPC/NPCL program has been a successful joint venture between multiple Major Commands and our industry partners to answer the call of the most significant epidemiological threat our generation has experienced,” said Steven Singleton, the NPC, NPCL Program Manager with the Air Force CBRN Branch. “The forward thinking development of this program answered not only the COVID threat, but all known high consequence infectious disease threats which could emerge requiring this type of transportation equipment. The real-world lifesaving impacts that this program enacts have been an integral driving factor to the nearly unparalleled rapid success of this JUON. This program has been the most unique, challenging, and rewarding experience I have had as a defense acquisition program manager.”