Knight Aerospace medical modules show great promise for U.S. and allies. Here is the interior of an aeromedical module ready and fully outfitted.

Knight Aerospace’s Aeromedical Modules Play a Key Role in Aeromedical Bio-Containment

By Article Editor

Historically, transporting extremely infectious patients by air has presented risks to attending medical personnel and the aircraft crew. The Ebola outbreak highlighted these risks, as multiple countries flew their citizens home for medical treatment. These flights often took place aboard cargo aircraft or specially chartered planes without patient isolation facilities.

After a medical transport aircraft reached its destination, it was removed from service and thoroughly decontaminated. However, with complete eradication of the virus not guaranteed, the market need for aeromedical bio-containment on future flights was undeniable.

When air transport is concerned, San Antonio-based OEM, Knight Aerospace, is known for specializing in “roll-on/roll-off” aeromedical modules that provide an effective solution to health and safety concerns. Often referred to as “flying ambulances” or “mobile emergency rooms”, Knight Aerospace’s aeromedical modules, such as the Aeromedical Bio-Containment Evacuation Systems (ABES), are scalable to any cargo aircraft and adaptable to meet unique customer requirements. 

Elevating Conditions for Patients and Doctors

Medical transport flights delivered very infectious patients, injured military members, and civilians, to well-equipped medical treatment facilities. Conditions aboard these flights were difficult for both the patient and medical personnel who attended them.

Tom Gallo, Knight Aerospace’s chief revenue officer, explains what patients had to endure on these often-lengthy flights. “In the past, patients were just transported in the back of a transport aircraft. It was hot, noisy, smelly, and unsafe, as patients were not secured on a stretcher. So our goal is to transform these missions into what patients deserve,” he concludes.

Conditions were also challenging for patients’ doctors. They were faced with caring for very sick patients in a non-sterile, noisy setting with constant vibration. Together, these undesirable conditions highlighted the need for a self-contained medical module that would better meet essential requirements.

The Aeromedical Bio-Containment Solution

Company engineers at Knight Aerospace listened to numerous aircraft crews’ and medical staff’s concerns before devising a solution and creating their stand-alone medical module that serves as an aeromedical bio-containment platform.

The Knight aeromedical module is designed to be structurally safe in flight and on the ground. As former Navy pilot Tom Gallo points out, the stand-alone enclosure’s build quality makes it extremely airworthy. In other words, an aeromedical module is designed to withstand the stresses placed upon it during flight.

The aeromedical module features a high degree of structural integrity. To illustrate, the aircraft can potentially have a rough landing or skid off an icy runway. Here, the aeromedical module is designed to stay intact and remain in place. Therefore, the aircraft’s crew and the medical staff will not unexpectedly face infectious disease risks from the compromised enclosure.

Gallo adds of the aeromedical bio-containment setting: “Some key features Knight has that others don’t are negative pressurization and other flexible aspects relative to the different types of rooms – whether it’s the staff room, the ante room, the patient room. 

“Knight’s medical modules also offer adaptability of the seats and beds in the patient room. It could be 16 seats for ambulatory – think passenger patients who aren’t critically ill but they’ve been infected. If you want to isolate them, you can take out seats and just keep four seats and put in four beds for the injured. 

“An additional differentiator is that caregivers can tend to patients through a video monitor.”

Successful Aeromedical Module Applications

The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) has deployed the Knight Aerospace medical module during air evacuations that began during the Ebola outbreak. The RCAF has given the module a distinctive name: the Aeromedical Bio-Containment Evacuation System (ABES) for these Canadian operations.

Specifically, the RCAF transports highly infectious patients domestically in its versatile C-130 aircraft. Internationally, the RCAF flies similar missions aboard its C-17 cargo workhorses. The ABES module is rotated between these cavernous cargo aircraft.

Tom Gallo says Canadian flight crews and medical personnel recognize the ABES medical module’s integral role in these lifesaving evacuations. “The ABES module has been rolled off the C-130 and into the C-17 and gone to Africa to bring back military members, diplomats, and Canadian citizens who were very, very sick.

“And the operators claim they’ve saved 10 or more lives by being able to treat them on the ABES en route for those long flights. They were clearly an early adopter.

“The Canadians actually began with Ebola and they said, ‘We’ve got to have our first responders in our aeromedical evacuations step up their game.’” The Knight Aerospace aeromedical module has enabled the achievement of this aeromedical bio-containment goal.

Other Aeromedical Transport Opportunities

Knight Aerospace’s aeromedical modules have played a key role in numerous COVID-19 evacuations. This aeromedical bio-containment platform has also been utilized in humanitarian and disaster relief missions. 

While in flight, doctors are also equipped to perform fairly involved surgical procedures. Collectively, these capabilities make the medical module a healthcare delivery vehicle in places without any healthcare services.

Conversations with local, national, and international emergency management agencies have resulted in additional medical module applications ideas.

Potential “Enroute Care” Military Medical Module Application

Today, the world is seeing increased numbers of regional conflicts, most recently the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These stand-alone medical facilities, like those offered by Knight Aerospace, could be deployed near engagement areas, perhaps on amphibious transport vessels. In the future, the US and our allies may be involved in a near-peer conflict without air and/or maritime superiority. “For this scenario, we must be able to provide multi-modal care on aircraft, ships, trains, trucks,” says Gallo. “This reality requires an investment in resources and training to serve the high number of casualties that could occur. En-route care across all of these modes is no longer a luxury – it’s a compelling requirement.”