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C-9A/C Nightingale
C-9B Skytrain II

The C-9 is a twin-engine, T-tailed, medium-range, swept-wing jet aircraft used primarily for Air Mobility Command's aeromedical evacuation mission. The Nightingale is a modified version of the McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Corporation's DC-9. It is the only aircraft in the inventory specifically designed for the movement of litter and ambulatory patients.

The C-9A's airlift capability to carry 40 litter patients, 40 ambulatory and four litter patients, or various combinations thereof, provides the flexibility for Air Mobility Command's worldwide aeromedical evacuation role. A hydraulically operated folding ramp allows efficient loading and unloading of litter patients and special medical equipment.

The plane has:

  • Ceiling receptacles for securing intravenous bottles.
  • A special care area with a separate ventilation system for patients requiring isolation or intensive care.
  • Eleven vacuum and therapeutic oxygen outlets, positioned in sidewall service panels at litter tier locations.
  • A 28 VDC outlet in the special care area.
  • Twenty-two 115 VAC-60 hertz electrical outlets located throughout the cabin permit the use of cardiac monitors, respirators, incubators and infusion pumps at any location within the cabin.
  • A medical refrigerator for preserving whole blood and biological drugs.
  • A medical supply work area with sink, medicine storage section and work table, fore-and-aft galleys and lavatories.
  • Aft-facing commercial airline-type seats for ambulatory patients.
  • A station for a medical crew director that includes a desk communication panel and a control panel to monitor cabin temperature, therapeutic oxygen and vacuum system.
  • An auxiliary power unit that provides electrical power for uninterrupted cabin air conditioning, quick servicing during stops, and self-starting for the twin-jet engines.

The prototype DC-9 flew on 25 February 1965, and DC-9s have since become the most widely used twin-jet airline transports. The DC-9 has grown considerably in dimensions-and gross weight--over the four basic model series built to date, with the Navy choosing one of the stretched models. By the mid-1960s there was a need for a new Medical Air Evacuation plane to replace the aging C-118 that was used in that capacity. Requirements included that it be based on an existing airliner, that it be capable of lengthy overwater flights, and that it be procured quickly, given the escalating war in Vietnam. The Douglas DC-9 was chosen, with the military's C-9A based on the DC-9-32 version. The first aircraft delivered was ordered in 1967, followed by a few planes each year until the last one ordered in 1971 was delivered. Three VC-9Cs were purchased in FY 1973. The Navy bought 14 C-9Bs for a number of units, and later bought and leasing 19 more.

The 375th Airlift Wing at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., operates C-9A Nightingales for Air Mobility Command. C-9A's are assigned to the 374th Airlift Wing at Yokota Air Base, Japan, for use in the Pacific theater. C-9s also are assigned to the 435th Airlift Wing at Rhein-Main Air Base, Germany, for use in the European and Middle East theaters. The C-9A Nightingale demonstrates its uniqueness and versatility daily by its ability to serve not only military, but Department of Veterans Affairs and civilian hospitals throughout the world, using military and commercial airfields.

Selected on the basis of a competitive evaluation of available certified twin-jet transports, the C-9B is a convertible passenger/cargo version of the civil series 30 DC-9--a stretched development of the original Douglas DC-9 transport. It is the second military version, the Air Force having previously selected essentially the same model as their C-9A Nightingale aeromedical airlift transport which has been in service for more than five years. Due to the specialized nature of the Air Force operations and the resultant name for its aircraft, a different name was selected for the Navy version--one of the exceptions to normal military aircraft-naming practice in which all versions of the same basic design carry the same name, even though used by different services. The Skytrain II name carries on the traditions of the famed DC-3 of WW II, the original Skytrain. In common with other convertible passenger/cargo versions, the C-9Bs differ from standard airline aircraft in having a large cargo door on the port side of the forward fuselage, along with other necessary cargo-handling features. All other details are essentially the same as airline models.

The C-9B can carry between 55 and 100 passengers, depending on the model and the configuration. A typical C-9B squadron has 4 aircraft. The most common mission is to move support personnel and cargo for Navy tactical aircraft squadron deployments and shipboard personnel movements. There are also two C-9B's at MCAS Cherry Point, NC that fly the same type of missions for the Marine Corps.

The C-130T can haul much more cargo than a C-9B can accommodate, but the C-130T can only fly about half as fast as a C-9B or C-20G. A typical C-130T squadron has 4 aircraft. These aircraft are called on when there are very large unit movements, with the people going ahead in one or more C-9B's and the cargo following in a C-130T. The Marine Corps Reserve also operates 24 KC-130T's (a tanker configuration) but they do not perform the same type of missions as the Navy Reserve C-130T's.

The seven C-9B squadrons and the four C-130T squadrons work together to keep one C-9B and one C-130T forward deployed to NAS Atsugi, Japan and two C-9B's and one C-130T forward deployed to NAS Sigonella, Italy most of the time. Crews and aircraft usually perform two week rotations, leaving their home base on a Saturday morning and returning on a Sunday afternoon two weeks later. These rotations are planned well in advance, so Navy VR bases can be good places to pick up a flight overseas. The C-9B aircraft can only carry a very limited load on long transit legs, though, so C-130T deployments are a more reliable way of getting overseas. Generally the squadrons in the eastern part of the United States fill the Sigonella commitment while those in the west go to Atsugi, but there is some crossover. The C-20G aircraft also perform some two week rotations, but with only four aircraft they don't try to keep one overseas all the time.

With the Navy's C-9B, on the enlisted aircrew side of the house, every mission has a Crewchief, a Loadmaster and a Flight Attendant. The Crewchief performs in-flight duties as a C-9 flight engineer. He or she is knowledgeable of all aircraft systems, emergency procedures and flight equipment. On missions, the Crewchief is essentially Maintenance Control and is responsible for preparing the aircraft for flight, ensuring required inspections are accomplished, and even repairing the aircraft when required. Leadership opportunities abound, as the Crewchief is responsible both for the aircraft status and for directing the other aircrewmen on the mission. The C-9 Loadmaster is responsible for loading and rigging the aircraft, and ensuring the weight and balance is correct. He or she is extremely knowledgeable in internal cargo handling, especially hazardous materials for the aircraft. The Loadmaster is also required to know all aircraft systems, emergency procedures and flight equipment. In addition, the Loadmaster performs many of the same in-flight duties as the Flight Attendant. The C-9 Flight Attendant is a jack-of-all-trades and is particularly knowledgeable in passenger handling requirements, safety procedures and equipment, and federal and military regulations for passenger transport. Once again, the Flight Attendant is an expert on emergency procedures and aircraft equipment.

The C-9 aircraft provides intra theater logistic support to Naval forces worldwide. The C-9 aircraft was procured as a commercial derivative aircraft certified under an FAA Type Certificate. Throughout its life, the aircraft have been operated and organically and commercially supported by the Navy using a combination of Navy and FAA processes, procedures and certifications. It continues to be maintained organically and commercially and relies on COTS/NDI components to support airworthiness. Aircraft modification efforts are turnkey projects (non-recurring engineering, procurement, installation, test and certification) implemented as part of competitively awarded maintenance contracts.

The C-9 meets neither Stage III noise nor FANS standards. To answer the Stage III requirement, AMC established a working group to research the various options for the C-9 fleet (A- and C-model). Engineering studies showed nearly equal costs to either reengine or install hush kits for the current engines. Both of these costs were substantially lower than replacing the aircraft. AMC also contemplated the supportability of the fleet as the commercial carriers retire the DC-9s from their inventory and FAA-mandated aging aircraft inspections begin to take effect.

The last operational C-9AE flight in the United States took place on August 18, 2003. The C-9 was from the 375th Airlift Wing and was Air Evac 696. The last mission included one litter patient, several Army patients returning home from operations in Iraq and several space-available travelers. The aircraft flew first to Fort Campbell, Ky., then on to Alexandria International Airport in Louisiana, and finally dropped off its last patient at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.



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