190th illuminates possibilities for aeromedical missions

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Emily F. Alley
  • 190th Public Affairs
The aircraft of the 190th ARW fly diverse missions all over the world, carrying cargo and refueling other aircraft. For the last several years our Stratotankers have also participated in aeromedical missions by lifting medical patients out of the Middle East and to hospitals around the United States. However, the dark interior of the KC-135 lacks modern lighting.

"The plane has flown for 50 years with almost no lighting in the cabin," recalled Lt. Col. Lee Grunberger, who first researched the idea of improved lighting, "but they were not designed to carry critical patients on a lifesaving mission."

The light improvements started in 2008, when Grunberger was on an aeromedical evacuation mission to Afghanistan and asked medics what could be done to improve the mission. When they suggested lighting, he began to do research and discovered new LED lights, which had been installed in RC-135s. By the time he ordered lights, they had improved in color quality and brightness to the point that doctors will be able to not only see patients, but recognize skin tone in true colors.

After researching the lights, Grunberger approached Air Mobility Command. He told them how he sought to bridge medical needs with maintenance capabilities.

"We helped set specs," described Grunberger. "We talked to people who set policy for the KC-135 at Tinker, the Guard Bureau and HQ AMC."

The 190th Maintenance Squadron supported the testing and installation, even making suggestions to the manufacturer that will improve the lighting kit for other aircraft. Grunberger stressed these are fleet-wide improvements, not just for the 200 KC-135s that belong to the Air National Guard.

The innovation is a result of the hard work from the Maintenance and Operations squadrons here, said Capt. Marci Solander, Aircraft Maintenance Squadron deputy commander, and "represents a culmination of many dedicated individuals going above and beyond in their efforts to ensure the unit remains ready."

A few active duty bases have begun to benefit from the lighting kits; however, months before they received them, the 190th was flying generals into Afghanistan on aircraft already equipped with the lights.

The 190th flew the first aeromedical evacuation sortie with new lighting into Bagram, Afghanistan, in July 2010. Kansas Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting and AMC National Guard assistant to the command surgeon, Brig. Gen. John Owen, accompanied the flight at the invitation of the 455th Medical Group commander in Bagram.

When the patients were loaded, the medics noticed the difference. While it is certainly a benefit at night, even daytime loading and unloading of patients is different with less risk of tripping, snagging or even dropping patients.

"And when you're coming out of Bagram, you'll have patients in critical condition," Grunberger reflected.

Senior Master Sgt. James Spurlock, the boom operator during the July flight, said the medical personnel were impressed with the lighting. They had experienced the old lighting and said the improvement was outstanding. The design also gave the medics more control - they can dim the lights when the patients need to sleep.

The 190th has plans to continue innovating. In the future, an improved layout can provide more space for medical crews. The current layout can be cramped when a doctor, respiratory technician and nurse, in addition to other medical personnel, work in the aisles. Grunberger plans to work with HQ AMC/SG to install litters that mount closer to the sides of the cabin and may expand aisle space as wide as 40 inches. They will also save 2,000 lbs in weight compared to the current palletized system.