By 1st Lt. Katherine Kebisek, Air Mobility Command Public Affairs

8/16/2006 - SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (AFPN) — In an effort to improve safety and comfort for patients being transported on high-deck aircraft, Air Mobility Command officials plan to soon acquire several high-deck patient loading platform, or HDPLP, vehicles.

The HDPLP is a vehicle with a series of hoists that allows the cab and patient seating area of the vehicle to rise to the level of the entrance on an aircraft. This is similar to some ramps and vehicles used at civilian airports that allow people to enter and exit planes without having to climb stairs.

Most aircraft used for aeromedical evacuation, often C-17 Globemaster IIIs and C-130 Hercules, have short, low-angle ramps that allow vehicles and patients to be rolled directly on to the aircraft.

On high-deck aircraft such as the KC-135 Stratotanker, a patient loading system, or PLS, is used. The PLS ramp uses the same angle of elevation as that on the C-9 Nightingale, an aircraft that transported patients until 2003. However, to reach the entrance of high-deck aircraft, the PLS is much longer and higher than any ramp on C-17s or C-130s.

While the PLS has been effective, the units have been heavily used. Over time, parts have become very difficult to maintain and replace due to the system's highly specialized design. And while the PLS is safe, staff and patients have at times felt apprehensive about crossing the high-level ramp while exposed to inclement weather.

“We're looking at the next generation of solutions to load patients and war fighters,” said Col. Stephen Prizer, command nurse at AMC. “This time instead of a ramp we're looking at a vehicle designed to drive on city streets from the hospital to the plane. The cab will rise and patients will walk straight from the vehicle onto the plane.”

The concept for HDPLP vehicles was illustrated by a model used at the Special Olympics in Los Angeles several years ago. The proposed vehicle that AMC is purchasing would be similar in that it would meet all requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but would also be configured to transport injured war fighters on NATO litters. The vehicle should be able to accommodate a variety of configurations, holding up to six patients on NATO litters and 10 additional ambulatory patients.

“The HDPLP vehicles will provide for a more seamless transition for patients transiting the (aeromedical evacuation) system,” Colonel Prizer said. “Patients won't have to be carried on a litter down a long ramp that is exposed to the wind, rain, sun and heat; they'll be able to move directly from the aircraft onto the climate-controlled vehicle. It should provide an added measure of patient safety and comfort to all of our patients on high-deck aircraft.”

AMC officials expect a contract will be awarded for the vehicles in September, and to receive the first vehicle about six months after the contract has been finalized. Scott Air Force Base, Ill., and Travis AFB, Calif., will receive the first HDPLP vehicles since they have the highest number of high-deck aeromedical evacuation missions. Additional vehicles are planned for Andrews AFB, Md., and Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

“The new vehicles will fill an important niche in transferring patients on and off high-deck aircraft in all types of weather,” Colonel Prizer said. “This initiative is clearly a step forward in the global patient movement business.”