Imagine being a patient, sick or wounded, and needing to be medically evacuated on a military cargo plane. You’re strapped to a stretcher and hustled into the back of a noisy aircraft.
The plane is hot, dirty, and loud. Your place on the stretcher is precarious. You buffet about from the time you board, through takeoff and in the air, until you land.
Imagine again that you’re a doctor or nurse trying to treat that patient. You face dangerous and challenging conditions while you try to treat the passenger safely.
For Bianca Rhodes, president and CEO of Knight Aerospace, the answer to those scenarios was simple.
“It doesn’t need to be this way,” she told a group of company leaders of the San Antonio-based company.
Knight Aerospace: A Revolution in Medical Transport
Instead, Rhodes envisioned a new approach to medical transport, unique among aerospace companies. Knight has rapidly become the leader using a new model. The company creates customizable aeromedical modules to accommodate patients, including those who may be suffering from infectious diseases. The Knight modules provide all the medical functionality necessary to treat patients. The aeromedical module also has the precautions and stability to ensure comfort and safe treatment.
Knight has been around for about 30 years but has evolved its product focus. Its innovative approach among aerospace companies for medical transport modules grew out of recent Ebola outbreaks. Its work has come into full focus given the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The aeromedical module locks into the plane’s cargo handling system and is a self-enclosed, environmentally controlled unit. The temperature and humidity controls, enhanced lighting, and maximum hourly air exchanges provide a safe environment for medical treatment. In addition, vibration- and noise-dampening features provide optimal in-flight care conditions.
Module designs allow for treating different numbers of patients and patients with varying levels of acuity. The modules can include anterooms, treatment rooms, and staffing areas. Equipment can be wall-mounted or litter-based.
Critically, the unit is a protected medical environment, separate from the aircraft crew. The modules can be easily and quickly loaded, offloaded, and decontaminated.
Development Focused On Expert Insights for Aerospace Companies
Knight uses a team of advisers to inform the design and functionality of the medical modules.
The Knight team also is honed in on listening to the domain experts who have vast experience in those circumstances and, specifically, military flight surgeons and military experts.
The company uses an agile design method. It focuses on understanding the requirements laid out by the Federal Aviation Administration, various military entities, and experts. The company designs, scopes out work, builds, and tests, all with regular insights from its expert advisers.
“We really do listen to the operators and their feedback on what we have already developed and delivered to them … making sure that the product is still standing up and functioning,” explains Michael Knight. “If there’s anything that needs upgrades, there’s always communication on how can we make it better.”
Listening to operators — the crews, medical care providers, flight surgeons and nurses, and squadron and procurement crew — is essential. It’s how Knight differentiates itself from other aerospace companies. It’s delivered practical solutions for those who will use the modules.
Treating Infectious Patients Safely
The recent Ebola outbreaks spurred the development of the company’s aeromedical bio-containment modules. The units fit multiple cargo airplane types, including C-130, C-17, A400M, C2, and C-5s. Modules can accommodate up to 18 patients.
Negative air pressurization keeps crews safe, and aircraft can be returned to service immediately without time-consuming and costly decontamination procedures.
The unit is five standard pallet positions long and contains three separate areas — a patient area, an anteroom, and staff area. The module uses a separate oxygen system to keep crews safe. The systems can treat those with major trauma or requiring resuscitative or surgical care while in flight.
Noise and turbulence don’t make for an ideal treatment environment. And previous models for medical transport were essentially bunk beds that are stretchers on one side.
Adaptability is another critical component as the company looks to compete with other aerospace companies. Seats can be removed and reconfigured to accommodate the number of patients and the type and severity of medical needs. Video capabilities allow for telemedicine options as well.
Knight has developed a responsive, innovative product designed to treat patients safely while in flight. As the world grapples with the ongoing pandemic and strife, its solutions are more relevant than ever.