The Flying Hospital That Rushes Wounded Soldiers to Safety

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military-airplane-hospitalThe key to getting a wounded soldier from a battlefield to a hospital is stabilization -holding off the damage done by bullet or bomb for long enough to get to surgery. So faster evacuation is always better. Now the hospital can actually meet the injured partway – in the form of a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, transformed into a flying triage unit. On board, doctors stabilize, monitor, and treat soldiers with high-level care so they make it safely home.

Increased Range

The sooner patients can get to the ground, the better: Planes with limited range used to hopscotch between airfields, but the C-17’s in-flight refueling makes for faster nonstop trips.

The Ward

Stable patients go to the ward (pictured), which can accommodate dozens of patients in stacked, bunk-bed-like pallets.

Flight Path

If an unstable patient needs to avoid turbulence, the medical teams use noise-canceling headsets to discuss route adjustments with the aircrew. They can also request an altitude change to alter cabin pressure if, say, air trapped inside a patient’s body might expand and damage tissue.

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Boeing C-17A Globemaster III
Boeing C-17A Globemaster III

Emergency room

Patients enter the C-17 through the back of the cargo hold, where medics stabilize them using resuscitation, intubation, and tourniquets. Then they assign them to the other medical teams (there are three!) for in-flight follow-up.


If a patient begins to decline rapidly during flight, doctors can insert chest drainage tubes and make emergency airway incisions. The operating room is equipped for abdominal surgery and open-heart massages too, though nobody has needed them yet.

High Temperatures

Burn victims need to stay warm to avoid hypothermia. Eighty-four strip heaters warm the floor panels from below, helping the flight crew crank the cabin temperature as high as 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Critical Care

The ICU is equipped with pacemakers, IV fluids, and drugs for treating septic shock.

Medical Oxygen

Soldiers whose lungs can’t oxygenate their blood have a flight- optimized extra- corporeal membrane oxygenation machine to do it for them. It pulls oxygen from tanks in the plane’s nose and pumps it into the blood.