C-21 − not just a DV airlift

1st Lt. Erin Dorrance
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***A military dependent stationed at Lajes Field, Azores, Portugal, panicked when she went into labor at the twenty-third week of her pregnancy. The 76th Airlift Squadron received notification about the situation and launched a C-21A to aeromedically evacuate the woman to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Before the C-21 landed, the woman delivered a premature baby and she and the baby needed emergency medical care. Both were safely evacuated to LRMC for medical care.

“We always have a C-21 ready to go out on an (aeromedical evacuation) mission,” said Lt. Col. Gregory Clark, 76th AS director of operations.

Aeromedical evacuations are one of the many missions flown each month in the 13 C-21As, assigned to the 76th AS, said 1st Lt. Christopher Heinz, one of the 76th AS pilots that ensured the Lajes woman delivered a healthy baby in December.

A common misconception about C-21s is that they just provide distinguished visitors’ airlift, said Colonel Clark.  

The aircraft is used for various missions to include flying critical care patients on aeromedical evacuation flights, four-star generals on DV airlift flights and special cargo missions throughout Europe and Africa.

First Lt. Scott Carroll, 76th AS pilot, said he chose this career direction because of the experience he would get so early in his career. In just 11 months, Lieutenant Carroll has flown 209 hours in 122 sorties. After flying C-21s for two years and the opportunity to extend for one year,
C-21 pilots are required to chose a major weapons system as their primary aircraft.  

Although several pilots choose to fly the C-21, most don’t understand the complexity of the mission until assigned to a squadron.

The C-21s are commonly flown into austere airfields to carry out their missions.

In addition to the airfields, the crew experiences heavy pressure on AE flights as they are transporting patients, often in life-threatening conditions, said Lieutenant Carroll.  

Beyond the pressure, C-21A pilots have 30 minutes from notification to be at the squadron and two hours total to launch the aircraft, he said.  

The phone call gives the aircrews a “time hack” of when to launch, and specifies the crew and plane configuration.

Depending on the severity and type of AE mission, a doctor and medics from the 86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron will be the designated aircrew, with a maximum of two medical personnel.

The aircraft is configured with a litter system or a spectrum configuration, much like a mobile hospital bed, into the aircraft, said Lieutenant Carroll.  

Staff Sgt. Christina Batten, 86th AES aeromedical evacuation technician, has been on about 15 C-21 AE missions. Sergeant Batten, who volunteered for the special duty assignment, likes doing AE missions on C-21s because she says they are more personal, as they usually include one single patient, compared to a C-17 AE mission that can accommodate up to 50 patients.  She also said C-21 AE missions are more urgent and her medical services are valued.  

Once an AE crew is launched there are several considerations the crew works with in order to complete their mission.

Lieutenant Carroll was on an AE mission to Turkey where a pregnant woman was bleeding and the doctor said she needed to be at the hospital immediately or else she and the baby would both die. The C-21 crew began estimating the entire weight of the plane, equipment and passengers to see if they could make it to Ramstein without stopping to refuel.

Lieutenant Carroll said they were within 50 pounds of the maximum gross take off weight and were able to fly straight to Ramstein.  

On some AE flights, the medical personnel make specific requests in order to help their patients.  Some C-21 AE flights are injured scuba divers and the cabin must maintain a specific pressure due to the high sea-level pressures they experience while diving, said Lieutenant Carroll.

Aside from those considerations, the flight is traversing across foreign country’s airspace.  

“Working with foreign governments is crucial to ensuring the most direct routing to and from Ramstein, especially during life-critical situations,” said Capt. Roman Miazga, C-21A flight commander.  

In 2005, the 76th AS C-21s completed 3,664 sorties and flew 6,480 hours, delivering 80 patients to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.