Coronavirus: RAF Aircraft Reconfigured To Transport COVID-19 Patients

Two RAF aircraft normally used to transport Government ministers and VIPs have been reconfigured in record time to help in the fight against coronavirus.

The BAe 146s have been specially adapted as medical evacuation planes for critically ill COVID-19 patients.

The aircraft's back row of seats have been removed and replaced with a stretcher to create a makeshift single-patient intensive care unit.

The RAF already has a range of aero-medical aircraft, including A400M transport planes, Voyager tankers and helicopters such as the Puma. 

However, the 146 offers more flexibility and has short take-off capability, as well as relatively low running costs.

Wing Commander Delia Chadwick, Commanding Officer, 32 Squadron, told Forces News: "The 146 is smaller than some of the other platforms we've got in the RAF that deliver an aero-med capability.

"To some extent, it can be delivered more cheaply, it can get into smaller air bases, perhaps don't need the fire and rescue cover that some of our larger platforms do."

The aircraft was reconfigured in the space of just two months. 

The 'pallet' - a piece of metal that moves a stretcher up and down on an aircraft - was a key addition and was taken from an RAF Voyager. 

RAF medics will have to wear full PPE, like this, when treating coronavirus patients.
RAF medics will have to wear full PPE, like this, when treating coronavirus patients.

Medics working on the aircraft have a range of experience.

Some of the personnel were involved in the repatriation flights that brought British nationals back from the Wuhan province in China, in February, at the start of the coronavirus crisis.

While others have experience working in different health emergencies such as lassa fever and ebola.

Wing Commander Jo Bland, from Tactical Medical Wing at RAF Brize Norton, said: "It takes about 20/30 minutes to get a patient on and off.

"For the complicated moves with any risk of aerosol-generation, they [military medics] have to be in full PPE [personal protective equipment]. 

"That's full level-three PPE, which means an apron, a double set of gloves, a mask and a face shield."

The Royal Air Force has played a vital role in the UK's response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

RAF aircraft have also been used to collect vital PPE from Turkey, as well as forming part of the COVID-19 Aviation Task Force.

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