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Eglin test squadron makes transport module 'air worthy'

The Negatively Pressurized Conex Lite being loaded on an HC-130J for testing at Joint Base Charleston, S.C. It's the first part of a series of testing to certify the system for operations. (U.S. Air Force photo / Senior Airman Joshua Maund)

The Negatively Pressurized Conex Lite being loaded on an HC-130J for testing at Joint Base Charleston, S.C. It's the first part of a series of testing to certify the system for operations. (U.S. Air Force photo / Senior Airman Joshua Maund)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

The Negatively Pressurized Conex Lite earned its certification for operational use June 25, only a day after its big brother completed its first-ever deployment mission for the Air Force.

The 417th Flight Test Squadron here played a large part in achieving this critical milestone.

“To go from vision to the warfighters' hands in less than 90 days is absolutely phenomenal,” said Col. Devin Traynor, 96th Operations Group commander.  “To do that during a global pandemic is simply unprecedented.”

The NPC and NPC Lite are transport/isolation modules that can be loaded onto aircraft to safely-move individuals with the COVID-19 virus and other highly infectious diseases.  The NPC loads onto a C-5 or C-17 and can transport approximately 28 passengers.  The NPC Lite fits into a C-130 and carries around 15 passengers.

At the end of April, the C-130 test squadron’s team took on the project of NPC Lite air-worthiness testing for the entire Air Force C-130 fleet.  Prior to any testing on the NPC Lite, the team spent April and May planning, coordinating and designing the tests that would meet the requirements.  A standard test program typically takes at least three months to a year of planning.

The team created test designs and procedures for the three Hercules variants needed to represent the majority of the Air Force C-130 fleet.

“We had to test all three aircraft in the shortest time possible, without sacrificing data integrity, to meet the deployment timeline,” said 1st Lt. Allison Read, 417th FLTS NPC Lite test team lead.

Once the plan was in place, next came the aircraft.  The 417th FLTS does not own any aircraft, so they relied on other C-130 squadrons.  The 88th Test and Evaluation Squadron provided an HC-130J.  Air National Guard units, the 166th Airlift Wing and 133rd Airlift Wing, provided a C-130H2 and C-130H3 respectively.

A host of other units, groups and offices took part in the test effort from maintenance, ground support, moving the NPC Lite and its usage during the testing.

The team needed 18 ground tests and one flight test at Joint Base Charleston to reach their requirements.  A large portion of those tests involved testing the electronics on the aircraft and the NPC Lite.  Those systems needed to work together and also not interfere or overload each other or the aircraft systems to reach the air-worthiness goal.  Other testing involved the loading process, egress and communication inside and out of the NPC Lite.

The team endured COVID-19 protocols and the usual weather and equipment failure obstacles during the testing, but also encountered daily and sometimes hourly changes to their requirements. 

“This (NPC Lite) program is definitely not normal.  The pace of events was beyond anyone's expectations,” said Karl Biermacher, C-130 avionics and electrical engineering chief at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.  “I know first-hand how challenging it can be to prepare, execute and report on a test under normal circumstances, let alone the circumstances of this program.  This team did all those things flawlessly, adjusting many times to changing circumstances. Their support was exceptional and I do not use that term lightly. They are true professionals.”