Air Force looks to use fleet’s largest cargo plane for medical evacuations
By WYATT OLSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 26, 2018
The Air Force is moving ahead to certify the cargo hold of its largest plane, the C-5M Super Galaxy, for use in medical evacuations for both casualties of war and victims of natural disasters.
Nearly as long as a football field, the Super Galaxy has significantly more capacity than the C-17, the largest aircraft used by the Air Force for aeromedical evacuations in the cargo area.
The Super Galaxy is certified for such evacuations using its passenger area, not its cargo hold.
This month, the Air Force completed a two-year initiative to prepare, equip and test the Super Galaxy for the broader certification.
Its cargo floor can accommodate 89 unstacked litters, twice as many as the C-17, which can fit 48 unstacked litters, according to a statement provided to Stars and Stripes by the Air Mobility Command. A C-130 can move only 15 patients on its cargo floor.
A final proof-of-concept test for the Super Galaxy was recently successfully completed at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., and certification to support aeromedical evacuations could come as early as this summer.
About 100 personnel were involved in the culminating test, with the C-5M and crew flying in from Travis Air Force Base, Calif.
For the purposes of certification, the Super Galaxy was configured with a proprietary litter-stacking system that reduces the maximum number of stretchers its bare cargo area could hold.
Under this configuration, the Super Galaxy “can safely move 244 ambulatory patients and has space for 40 litters,” Air Mobility Command said.
The aeromedical evacuation squadron brought aboard its standard in-flight kits used for medical care, and a transportable galley and lavatory were also added.
The Super Galaxy can carry a payload of nearly 135 tons, with enough cargo space to carry, say, two tanks, 16 Humvees and three Black Hawk helicopters. Without cargo, it has a range of 7,000 miles without the need for refueling.
The Super Galaxy is an upgraded version of the legacy C-5, which was introduced in the 1960s. Its more powerful engines provide more thrust, shorter takeoffs and longer range.
Those engine enhancements, as well as upgrades to its cargo compartment, made the plane suitable for aeromedical evacuation use, according to Air Mobility Command, which is headquartered at Scott.
“The engine upgrade allowed the aircraft to produce a lot more power and to use the jet more efficiently,” Master Sgt. Christopher Boots, a C-5M flight engineer evaluator, said in an Air Force statement.
“Another factor was the environmental system received upgrades,” he said.
“We now have better control over the systems, and we’re able to better control the environment [temperature and cabin pressure] that the [aeromedical evacuation] folks would have downstairs in the cargo compartment.”
Maj. Kevin Simonds, a C-5M pilot with the 22nd Airlift Squadron, in the statement said this initiative is the latest example of the Air Force’s overall push to use all aircraft more efficiently by maximizing the capabilities of any one type.
The initiative also dovetails with the Defense Department’s shift in strategy away from counter-insurgency toward great-power competition.
Putting the Super Galaxy to work for aeromedical evacuations will be a pivotal point, said Maj. Catherine Paterson, 439th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron flight nurse, in the statement, because it provides another platform to move troops, aid in humanitarian missions and do mass evacuations.