Air Force retiring Nightingale fleet

The C-9 is a twin-engine, T-tailed, medium-range, swept-wing jet aircraft used primarily for Air Mobility Command's aeromedical evacuation mission. It is the only aircraft in the inventory specifically designed for the movement of litter and ambulatory patients.


By MARNI MCENTEE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 5, 2003

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — The Air Force’s fleet of C-9A Nightingales, the grand dame of medical evacuation airplanes, will soon go the way of the dodo bird.

The service is retiring the 1968-vintage aircraft because they’re beset by corrosion and their engines are too loud to comply with noise regulations in Germany and at some stateside civilian airfields.

Five of the six Nightingales at Ramstein Air Base, where medical evacuation is a key mission, will be retired by late this year, said Col. Jackie Murdock, commander of the 86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron. The sixth, a C-9C, will remain for about another year to transport high-ranking government and Department of Defense passengers.

The last C-9 mission at Ramstein will be at the end of September.

The 86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron will continue its mission aboard C-130, C-17, C-141 and, at times, KC-135 aircraft, Murdock said Wednesday. Some noncritical patients also may take commercial airliners.

Beginning in late August, a C-21 crew will be on alert 24 hours a day for urgent evacuation missions.

“We’re not losing anything,” Murdock said. “We’ve built in the medical capability on other aircraft.”

The squadron averaged about 1,400 aeromedical evacuation missions a year, moving roughly 9,000 patients, said Lt. Col. Steve Hill, director of operations. Those missions were on C-9s, C-130s and C-141 aircraft.

As it stands, Murdock said, about 25 percent of the squadron’s patients require the built-in mobile hospital available on the Nightingale. Much of that equipment will become standard on the C-21 and the rest will remain part of the medical squadron’s carry-on gear. Patients not needing such urgent care will fly on standard military airlift planes or use commercial airlines.

The 86th started training with the C-21 squadron on the medical mission eight months ago. The medevac crews also train on the other aircraft.

Many of the new medevac missions will be on C-130 Hercules operated by Ramstein’s 37th and 38th airlift squadrons. Those aircraft are being modified with newer engines and quieter auxiliary power units to help cut noise, the base commander, Brig. Gen. Erwin F. Lessel, said.

The 86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron has used C-9s at Ramstein for 10 years to conduct regular runs around the theater to pick up ill patients, as well as transport the seriously ill and wounded. They conduct 13 weekly missions as far west as Lajes Field, Azores, to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, and Bahrain on the Arabian Peninsula.

The 75th Airlift Squadron at Ramstein operates the C-9s.

That squadron will deactivate in October. Its pilots and crews will move to other squadrons.

The service’s 20 modified Boeing DC-9s, named for the famous nurse Florence Nightingale, will be taken to the Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson, Ariz. In addition to the Ramstein fleet, C-9As are in use at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., and Yokota Air Base, Japan.

“It’s kind of sad,” Murdock said. “We hate to see it go. But it’s a part of history.”

Fightin’ ‘Roos deactivated after 60-year history

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — The 75th Fightin’ ’Roos are rapidly becoming short-timers.

The 75th Airlift Squadron, whose patch bears a kangaroo, will deactivate because the C-9A Nightingale planes it operates are being retired.

The 75th was activated 60 years ago and moved from Rhein-Main Air Base to Ramstein in 1993. The unit will roll up its guidon at a deactivation ceremony on Oct. 1, 10 years to the day after it arrived at Ramstein, commander Lt. Col. Jeff Dunn said Wednesday.

“From a personal perspective, I hate to see my squadron go,” Dunn said Wednesday. “I also recognize that this is very much a part of what’s going on in the Air Force today. We’re changing the old ways of doing things and it’s a small part of that.”

The C-9, a modified Boeing DC-9, has been the primary aircraft for Ramstein’s medical evacuation mission. The 75th operates the planes, maintains medical equipment and uses the Nightingale for “pilot seasoning,” or training of new pilots.

The 75th Airlift Squadron’s 24 pilots are either going on to their next assignments early or moving to other airframes at Ramstein, Dunn said.

The squadron’s 11 life-support section members, who maintain medical equipment, life rafts and survival vests, will move to the 76th Airlift Squadron. The administrative staff will move to other areas in the group. Dunn will become deputy commander of the 86th Operations Group.

Much of the squadron’s memorabilia will go to the wing historian. That includes a photo autographed by the hostages freed from captivity in Iran. The squadron airlifted the hostages from Algiers to Rhein-Main in 1981. The historian also gets to keep the squadron’s 2001 McKay Trophy, awarded to the 75th for its missions airlifting victims of the USS Cole bombing in Yemen.

Perhaps the smallest memento from the squadron, a tiny, solid gold kangaroo lapel pin, also will be closely guarded.

“This gold pin has been passed down from commander’s spouse to commander’s spouse for well over 25 years. We’re going to hold onto it in case the 75th ever reactivates,” Dunn said.

— Marni McEntee

Maj. Jeffery Dunn and 1st Lt. Joseph Mondello, pilots assigned to the 75th Airlift Squadron from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, start engines on their C-9 Nightingale aircraft before flying out of Izmir Air Station, Turkey.

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