Knight Aerospace: High-Tech Medevac Explained

Soldiers secure Knight Aerospace aeromedical module in the storage hold of a military cargo aircraft.

The Aeromedical Module (AM) solves one of the most pressing challenges in airborne medical evacuation: how to transport an infectious person without putting the aircrew at risk. Developed by Knight Aerospace, the medical module is a roll-on/roll-off ICU for cargo aircraft. 

The Ebola Epidemic of 2014-2016

Ebola is a highly contagious disease. When it erupted in Africa in 2014, it would go on to infect more than 28,000 and claim the lives of more than 11,000 people. Naturally, patients’ families and health care providers wanted them repatriated so they could be cared for close to home. Typically, this is done by aircraft, but in the case of the Ebola outbreak, there were two major problems. 

First, aircraft pilots and crew had to be kept separate from the patients to eliminate any risk of infection. Second, after transporting each patient the aircraft needed extensive decontamination. This would take it out of service for a prolonged period.

After identifying an urgent need for better medical evacuation (medevac) capabilities, Knight Aerospace came up with a solution: a self-contained medical module.

Pivoting to Medevac

The team at Knight Aerospace, highly experienced with aircraft structures and crafting luxury modular aircraft interiors, had the knowledge and ability to effectively convert a cargo aircraft into specialized passenger transportation.

Knight went on to build an aircraft-ready ICU in the form of a self-contained medical module designed to slide in and out of a standard cargo aircraft. No longer would health care professionals have to transfer sick, and possibly infectious, patients from ambulances to an ill-equipped aircraft. Instead, the patients would be moved inside the medical module without interrupting their care and treatment.

The need was urgent, so to provide a single-minded focus, a new company was formed, Knight Aerospace Medical Systems, LLC. Partnering with physicians and medical evacuation specialists, they created a medical module that could slide into the hold of a C-130 cargo, C-17 and many other cargo  aircraft types. 

Patient Services in the Medical Module

While the module needs to be hooked up to aircraft power, in every other regard it’s a completely self-contained unit. It slides into the hold like a cargo unit and is secured in place. Loading takes about  an hour, during which patients continue receiving medical care. The module’s capacity is configurable to suit specific needs but it could accommodate up to 12 patients plus medical staff.

Gurneys are secured to the floor, and wall mounts accept a range of medical equipment. Seating is provided for the medical team. To let treatment continue in flight, gurneys can slide laterally for physician/nurse access from both sides. In addition, to safeguard pilots and crew, the medical module is maintained at a negative air pressure with respect to the rest of the aircraft. This helps prevent any airborne viruses or bacteria from escaping.

Another important benefit of the module is sound attenuation. Being largely isolated from the aircraft structure, it provides a much quieter environment for the medical team to work in. This is important when tending to seriously ill patients who may struggle to speak.

Medical Module Benefits

The Aeromedical Bio-Containment Module offers medical practitioners and their patients two major benefits. The first is that treatment can continue while the patient is being moved. This has a significant positive impact on outcomes. Second, with capacity for multiple patients, it lowers the transportation cost per patient.

The Knight medical module has civilian and military applications. In both, it allows seriously ill patients to receive uninterrupted care while in transit to a well-equipped hospital. Effectively a roll-on/roll-off ICU for cargo aircraft, it provides key capabilities previously absent in medevac.

The fully enclosed, airworthy, VIP modular suite also slides easily in and out of the hold of a cargo aircraft and locks into the existing cargo handling system. This offers three major advantages. First, it avoids the time and expense of taking an aircraft out of service for a refit. Second, by avoiding the need to dedicate an aircraft to VIP transport it provides greater flexibility. And third, it gives heads of state and other VIPs a way to travel discreetly while still enjoying the comfort and security they expect. Rather than moving a very obvious jet from airport to airport, a modular interior is easily moved from one aircraft to another.

Knight Aerospace was founded by Alfred Knight in 1992. Knight’s vision was to create a leading aerospace supplier focused on customized high-quality interiors. For other companies, crafting a luxurious cabin entailed taking an aircraft out of service for a refit. That meant lost flying time and more expense. Knight Aerospace took a different, more innovative approach: the modular suite. Today, Knight Aerospace continues in the vision of Alfred Knight by transforming humanity’s missions.