The US Air Force (USAF) has advanced Negatively Pressurized Conex (NPC) and NPC Lite (NPCL) to operational tests at Joint Base Charleston in South Carolina, US.

Claimed to be a rapid prototype project, NPC is being developed in response to the US Transportation Command’s (USTRANSCOM) Joint Urgent Operational Need (JUON) requirement for immediate transport of Covid-19 infected personnel.

While the first NPCL was delivered to Joint Base Charleston on 1 June for an operational test, the NPC will arrive this weekend. After successful testing, these are expected to quickly commence operations.

After several tests and demonstration flight of the NPC on 30 April, the Commander of Air Mobility Command (AMC), based on the recommendation of PEO ACS, decided to proceed with the acquisition of the NPC for Inter-Theater Airlift on the C-17 and C-5 aircraft; and the NPCL type for Intra-Theater Airlift on C-130, C-17 and C-5.

Expert teams from Air Mobility Command and the Air Force Lifecycle Management Center’s (AFLCMC) Engineering and Technical Management/Services Directorate, C-17 System Program Office (SPO), C-130 SPOs, C-5 SPO, and Human Systems Division worked with the NPC/NPCL programme team and contractor on the systems’ designs.

This combined effort was intended to reduce the time it takes for the engineering, medical, safety, testing, financial, scheduling, and airworthiness processes to less than 30 days.

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The NPC is slated for ten days of ground tests after which there would be an Operational Utility Evaluation (OUE) C-17 flight.

The NPCL will have 21 days of ground tests on three different C-130s, which will include  OUE on a C-130J by mid-June. Further evaluations for the C-17 and C-5 aircraft will follow for the other configurations later.

Following the conclusion of the OUEs, the systems will enter into service to transport Covid-19 patients around the globe for USTRANSCOM.

Further quick delivery of additional NPC and NPCL units will begin at the end of June, and 30 of each system are expected to be produced.

Testing will be carried out by a joint team consisting of members of the Air Force CBRN Branch, 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron, Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Centers (AFOTEC) Det 2, 417th Flight Test Squadron, aircraft SPOs, AFRL, AMC/SG, AMC/A3V, Army Combat Capability Development Directorate, Army Public Health Center and additional team members.

C-17 Program Office  senior materiel leader Col Scott Ekstrom said: “Providing an unrivaled mobility capability for the nation and our allies is the reason we come to work every day.

“The demand for urgent solutions to current problems is constant.  Supporting an effort like the NPC/NPCL development showcased our teams working together to rapidly affect the safety and security of our airmen. I couldn’t be prouder of the team.”