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Historic C-9 heads to Andrews for retirement

FILE PHOTO -- The C-9 is a twin-engine, T-tailed, medium-range, swept-wing jet aircraft used primarily for Air Mobility Command's aeromedical evacuation mission. The Nightingale is a modified version of the McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Corporation's DC-9. It is the only aircraft in the inventory specifically designed for the movement of litter and ambulatory patients. The C-9A's airlift capability to carry 40 litter patients, 40 ambulatory and four litter patients, or various combinations thereof, provides the flexibility for Air Mobility Command's worldwide aeromedical evacuation role. A hydraulically operated folding ramp allows efficient loading and unloading of litter patients and special medical equipment. (U.S. Air Force Photo)

FILE PHOTO -- The last active-duty Air Force C-9 Nightingale left Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Sept. 20 for retirement at the air museum at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. The twin-engine, T-tailed, medium-range, swept-wing jet aircraft was used primarily for Air Mobility Command aeromedical missions, as well as transporting high ranking government officials. (U.S. Air Force Photo)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (AFPN) -- The last remaining active-duty Air Force C-9 Nightingale received a red carpet farewell Sept. 20 when it departed for Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

The final C-9, Tail 876 assigned to the 76th Airlift Squadron here, was flown to its new and final resting place at the air museum at Andrews.

This Nightingale is a modified DC-9 that entered service in 1971 as an aeromedical aircraft. In the mid-to-late 1970s, its mission changed as it became the aircraft for the Supreme Allied Commander. In the late 1990s, it was brought here as an operational support airlift aircraft.

The C-9 airframe, in line for retirement since 2003, was finally retired because of its short-range capability and because its specifications no longer met the standards for noise restrictions at many airports.

Maj. Darren Young, a Nightingale pilot with the 76th AS, said there is no replacement for the C-9 as he boasted of its reliability and the quick rate in which it can be returned to operation after flying a mission.

The C-9 was the only aircraft in the Air Force inventory designed specifically for the movement of litter and ambulatory patients. In place of the aircraft, other cargo aircraft have taken on the added job of transporting patients. New aeromedical technology, called patient support pallets, has made it possible to transport patients aboard aircraft not normally used for aeromedical evacuation.

The pallet setup, developed at the Human Systems Center at Brooks City-Base, Texas, is built on a standard cargo pallet and provides support for six litters or a combination of three airline seats and three stretchers. The Air Force uses the PSP on KC-135 Stratotankers, KC-10 Extenders and C-17 Globemaster IIIs. The Air Force began using C-130s and KC-135s for AE within the continental United States in 2003.

But for pilots such as Major Young, there are certain aspects of the C-9 that will be missed.

“It is an older aircraft but is very reliable,” Major Young said. “We’ve only had one mission in over two years where it was unable to get the distinguished visitor to his intended destination,” he said. “Its primary advantage was its ability to rapidly turn on the ground. We can turn in 20 to 30 minutes compared to other aircraft that require up to an hour or more.”

While the C-9 was used primarily for aeromedical evacuations, the configuration of the 34-year-old aircraft was suitable for special missions to remote locations. It had a distinguished visitor compartment which provided passengers complete privacy, and a large cargo capacity that allowed transport of humanitarian aid supplies and bags for up to 31 passengers. It also allowed the crew to carry supplies necessary for extended missions in places like Africa.

Tail 876 has flown many distinguished passengers to high-profiled engagements worldwide.

The memorable missions for Major Young were multiple trips to Africa carrying DVs, and a trip transporting first lady Laura Bush as she toured European hospitals.

“Africa is a unique mission in the fact that it is still a remote location and the area is an extremely challenging environment to operate in -- lack of navigation aid, poor runways, poor security, poor communications and lack of radar environment,” Major Young said.

Tail 876 and its distinguished mission of transporting high ranking government and officials for special air missions throughout the world will be missed by many.

“Tail 876 afforded the 76th AS an exceptional platform to provide our distinguished passengers an ‘office in the sky’ to stay connected while traveling comfortably worldwide, and especially throughout Africa,” said Lt. Col. Vincent Jovene, 76th AS commander. “It will truly be missed.”

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