AMC Wants to Turn C-5Ms into Flying Hospitals

USAF aeromedical evacuation team members participate in a training scenerio during a C-5M Super Galaxy AE proof of concept flight from Scott AFB, Ill., on Dec. 5, 2018. Air Force photo by Joey Swafford.

The Air Force is vetting its biggest aircraft as a new option for large-scale aeromedical evacuation.

Air Mobility Command is evaluating how the massive C-5M Super Galaxy airlifter could carry more than 100 patients out of harm’s way—possibly doubling the Air Force’s current medevac capacity for a single aircraft. AMC currently flies C-130s, C-17s, and KC-135s for aeromedical evacuation missions. The C-17 can hold the most patients at once, accommodating 60 people on stretchers.

Bringing in the C-5 would allow the Air Force to evacuate an entire hospital or an equivalent number of patients if needed, said SMSgt. Stephen Mellan, aeromedical evacuation technician training manager at AMC.

The C-5 has flown some aeromedical missions, dating back to the Vietnam War era. However, those missions confined patients to a smaller passenger compartment. When evaluating its overall capacity for medevac, AMC looked at the C-5’s cargo area and wondered why it hadn’t been used all along, Mellan said.

With the fleet upgraded to the C-5M Super Galaxy configuration, the aircraft now has modern avionics and engines that provide enough electricity to power the critical care teams that work on patients. The C-5 can fly into an emergency response situation with equipment such as water purifiers, blankets, shelters, and stretcher, or litter, systems.

Now other platforms like the C-130 would continue serving as flying ambulances with smaller capacity, while the C-5 could lift the heaviest load.

“What can I do to make the best possible solution in the worst possible case scenario? A C-5 comes in and clears out everybody,” Mellan said.

He pointed to Hurricane Katrina’s battering of New Orleans in 2005, or storms akin to this year’s Hurricane Dorian that pummeled the Bahamas, as examples of instances in which a C-5 could whisk a hospital-size load of patients out of harm’s way or to places that can offer better care.

AMC began the official process of evaluating the C-5 in December 2018 with a proof of concept flight at Travis AFB, Calif., that involved aeromedical teams from across the Air Force. Another test flight took place in March at Scott AFB, Ill.

This month, a C-5 is practicing the aeromedical evacuation mission as part of AMC’s ongoing Mobility Guardian exercise based at Fairchild AFB, Wash. The exercise gives crews the chance to develop guidelines for how it would perform the mission as the idea makes its way to final certifications. Once certified, US Transportation Command will be able to task a C-5 with aeromedical evacuation work when needed.

“We 100 percent believe it can do the mission,” Melland said.