July 6 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force's Negatively Pressurized Conex designed to transport people with infectious diseases, like COVID-19, has moved 12 patients, completing its first operational mission, the branch announced on Monday.
The NPC finished moving the 12 patients from U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility to Germany's Ramstein Air Base to receive a higher level of care at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center on July 1, an Air Force statement said.
The aircraft is an updated version of a mobile isolation chamber designed in 2014 to safely move patients with infectious disease. The new version has been designed and employed in less than three months, officials said.
"I'm impressed with how quickly this idea became a fully functioning system" said Brig. Gen. Dan DeVoe, 618th Air Operations Center commander.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Air Mobility Command has retrieved more than 100 patients across 18 missions using isolation containment chambers, but the NPC is the most advanced system.
Air Mobility Command first increased training on an isolation chamber called the Transport Isolation System developed during the 2014 Ebola crisis but never operationalized. The TIS was used in April to transport three COVID-19 patients and since then, has performed 16 additional aeromedical evacuations.
The TIS had limited capability though, as it was designed to transport only two to four patients.
Within a few months -- 88 days, officials said -- the Air Force developed the NPC as a solution to increase capacity. The NPC can safely transport up to 23 ambulatory patients or eight patients requiring stretchers.
Training on the NPC began from Joint Base Charleston, SC, on June 24, and the NPC was called to action less than a week later aboard a C-17 Globemaster III assigned to the 437th Airlift Wing.
"Our planners and controllers expertly handle aeromedical evacuation missions on a regular basis, but the increase in capability the NPC offers is a great advantage to have available for our operations in the COVID-19 environment and beyond," DeVoe said.