Flying Yankees mark another milestone

  • Published
  • By Maj. George Worrall
  • 103rd Operations Group, Unit Public Affairs
Connecticut's 103rd Airlift Wing flew its first aeromedical evacuation missions, known as AE, March 5-12 from Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

Four Connecticut pilots, a crew chief and a specially equipped C-21A Cougar were staged from Scott Air Force Base during the first week of missions and transported nine patients and one family member over a period of nearly 30 flight hours.

"This was my first time doing an AE mission in my eight years as a pilot," said Maj. Christopher P. Papa, C-21 pilot, 118th Airlift Squadron, who flew on the first AE mission for the 103rd Airlift Wing March 6, 2010. "I thought it was one of the most rewarding missions I have ever done in an aircraft. You feel like you are contributing a lot more with this one [mission]."

The Flying Yankee C-21s picked up patients as they arrived from overseas as well as those needing transfer from other CONUS medical facilities across the country, taking them to airfields near Fort Drum N.Y., Fort Riley Kan. and directly to Dover Air Force Base, Del. , MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Andrews Air Force Base, Md. and Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.

"There is always a medical technician and a flight nurse and two patients at most on a typical mission," said Maj. Papa, explaining the passenger load and crew. "When the ambulance arrives, the patients are swapped to a table then onto the spectrum medical sled."

As always, flexibility is the key to airpower, so changes often need to be made for a delayed arrival from overseas or the patient's condition.

"On March 9, we arrived at MacDill Air Force Base to pick up a patient critically sickened while supporting the relief effort in Haiti," said Maj. Stephen R. Gwinn, C-21 pilot, 118th Airlift Squadron, who also piloted the first mission with Maj. Papa.

"Unfortunately, when we arrived, the patient was declared unstable by the flight doctors and we were unable to transport them home."

Although the crews from the 103rd flew actual aeromedical evacuation missions during the week, the missions were also a learning experience for the unit.

"It was a test for the wing to validate our integration into the TACC [Tanker Airlift Control Center] command and control during AE Operations," said Maj. Gwinn. "The test proved we could become an integral part of the movement of patients by adding to the available AE assets and providing TACC with the opportunity to efficiently utilize recourses, especially along the Eastern U.S."

Following the success of the test in early March, the unit continued to perform AE missions and completed two more rotations in March following the test week; however, some issues remain.

"Out of the 30 AE [medical] squadrons located within the CONUS, only two are currently qualified in C-21A," said Maj. Gwinn. "Just adding the capabilities of a couple of squadrons will allow the 103rd Airlift Wing to fully support the TACC AE mission from Bradley on a full-time basis."

The military uses a variety of methods to move injured servicemembers. According to Joint Publication 4-02, Health Services Support, the en-route capability can take three forms: casualty evacuation, medical evacuation and aeromedical evacuation.

Casualty evacuation, termed CASEVAC by all services, refers to the unregulated movement of casualties aboard watercraft, vehicles or aircraft to bring an injured servicemember for treatment. Medical evacuation (MEDEVAC), performed by all services, refers to dedicated medical evacuation platforms staffed and equipped to provide en route medical care using pre-designated tactical or logistic aircraft and watercraft temporarily equipped and staffed with medical attendants for en route care. Aeromedical evacuation (AE) specifically refers to United States Air Force fixed wing movement of regulated casualties, using mobility airframes, with AE aircrew trained explicitly for this mission.