By Erin Murray, Army Flier Staff WriterJanuary 6, 2012
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Representatives from the U.S. Army Medical Department, U.S. Army School of Aviation Medicine and the 1st Battalion, 223rd Aviation Regiment Air Ambulance Detachment, "Flatiron" unit, got a glimpse of the future of Army Aviation and a chance to give feedback that may impact the features and form of future Medevac aircraft during a study conducted Dec. 14 at Fort Rucker.
Researchers for the Department of Defense Joint Future Vertical Lift study brought a Boeing V-22 Osprey to Fort Rucker's Medevac training facility and demonstrated various configurations to the inside of the craft. The JFVL study is currently researching replacements for AH-64 Apache, UH-60 Black Hawk, CH-47 Chinook and OH-58 Kiowa aircraft.
"The Joint Future Vertical Lift study is looking at the next generation aircraft. Speed, range and carrying capacity are the three things that Medevac would like to see included in the next generation of aircraft. We're looking at how to integrate Medevac requirements into what the JFVL study and the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence is doing," said Mark Robinson, a researcher for the JFVL study.
"The Army Aviation Center is being smart. They're going to the customer and asking what is needed. They're playing with the configuration to find the best options," said Robinson adding an example of these experiments, "We're looking at a medical configuration in a cabin bigger than a Black Hawk. If we had a bigger cabin, which is what the Maneuver Center of Excellence asked for, let's see how we can make the best configuration."
Lt. Col. Jana Nohrenberg, Combat Developer and Clinical Consultant at Directorate of Combat and Doctrine Development at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, also visited Fort Rucker to provide input into the future of Medevac aircraft.
"We've identified a lot of things in the last 10 years that can be done. We do a great job of providing medical care on the battlefield; at the point of injury, en route, during surgery and post-op. We're looking for a way to give [flight medics] a way to give them the proper space do their job. It's very exciting to be in on the design end of next-generation aircraft," she said, adding that "Cabin space like [that of the V-22] would be phenomenal for en route care."
Nohrenberg explained that the JFVL study aims to fix the issues currently facing Medevac aircraft, including altitude issues in the current theater of operations.
"We've had to strip down the Black Hawks in order to have enough power to lift. Hopefully, we can give the aircraft a better environmental control unit. Patients who become very cold tend to have a bad outcome, so keeping their temperature at a normal range means better outcomes. We will actually build in the requirements instead of having to retrofit [the aircraft]."
Along with providing a larger and more efficient workspace for flight medics, the input into the future Medevac helicopters will benefit the upcoming changes in training that will make all flight medics qualified to the paramedic level, said Nohrenberg.
"The flight paramedic initiative came out of lessons we learned in theater. Flight medics do a great job, but there are gaps in what they can provide. So the impetus now is to train all the flight medics to the paramedic level. They'll have an increased skill set that increases the procedures they can perform en route," she said.
Col. Vincent C. Carnazza, dean of the U.S. Army School of Aviation Medicine also toured the model aircraft and discussed the importance of the paramedic training program.
"The last 10 years have identified a gap. The medical system has become very sophisticated, but in the air we have the same thing we had 20 years ago. En route care is something we have to professionalize. Right now, [flight medics] don't necessarily have experience with patients before going into combat.
"People began to ask, 'Why is it that a [civilian] is picked up by an air ambulance that has a provider with better skills than our flight medics in combat?' We want to raise that level to the paramedic status. The care is going to be better if you provide a better skill set," he said.
The training will begin in February, with two pilot courses in which 60 students will be assessed.
"It's basically a flight medic course here, a paramedic course for six months and a critical care course for two months," Carnazza said. In total, paramedic training will be around eight months for current flight medics and 10 months for students directly following Advanced Individual Training.
"[This research] allows [Medevac] to do missions that were not possible before. If we give them more space to do that work, it goes nicely with the training they're getting. If we have the speed to get [a physician or medic] to the right place, you can save more lives, but you can also decrease the risk of disability that comes along with certain types of wounds. That capability -- getting to the right care -- is important," said Robinson.
With improved aircraft and highly qualified flight paramedics, the Army will see increased transit speed combined with higher-level care, which will decrease the risk of fatality and disability in combat, said Norenberg.
"The AMEDD mission is to always conserve fighting strength. If we can give Medevac Soldiers a tool that allows them to move those critically wounded patients faster, farther and in a more efficient manner, we're going to see positive benefits," she said.