|Air evacuation team from 803rd Medical Air Evacuation Transportation Squadron, |
Lt. Pauline Curry and Tech. Sgt. Lewis Marker,
check a patient on a flight over India. (U.S. Air Force photo)
the front of the plane, flight nurse Lt. Georgie Taylor threw a bright smile in
place. These men had been wounded in battle or suffered from illness far from
home. This could be their worst Christmas ever, but she was determined to give
them pleasant memories.
“All right, gentlemen. Open your presents.”
The men untied the gauze, and
Georgie and Sergeant Ramirez helped those with casts or bandages on their
“Fudge!” someone cried.
“Hey, watch your language. A lady’s present.” (On Distant Shores, p. 294)
In my novel On Distant Shores, the heroine serves as
a flight nurse. To celebrate the book’s release, I’m running a series on medical
air evacuation in World War II.
discuss general principles of air evacuation, then we’ll follow one patient’sflight experience, and then we’ll meet the flight nurse.
History of Air
|Douglas C-47 Skytrain cargo plane|
As soon as the
Wright brothers took to the air, clever minds thought of ways to use the new
contraption. In 1910 two Army officers constructed the first ambulance plane,
and during World War I the Army experimented with transporting patients by air.
The advent of large
multi-engine cargo planes in the interwar years made these dreams realistic. In
November 1941, the US Army Air Force authorized the Medical Air Ambulance
Squadron. Air evacuation was first performed informally early in 1942 during
the construction of the Alcan Highway and in Burma and New Guinea. The first
official air evacuation with flight nurses was flown on March 12, 1943 in
|Lt. Aleda Lutz of 802nd Medical Air Evacuation Transport |
Squadron in C-47 in North Africa. Lt. Lutz would
be killed in a plane crash in France Nov. 1, 1944,
one of 16 flight nurses killed in service.
Speed is the
primary benefit of air evacuation. Planes can also traverse inhospitable
terrain or dangerous seas. The military came to see that air evacuation
required less equipment than ambulance transport, aided recovery, and increased
morale on the front.
couldn’t fly in bad weather, and planes were not reserved for ambulance use
during the war. Since top priorities for transport planes were airborne
missions and carrying supplies, medical air evacuation depended on
availability. Also, dangers existed from crashes and enemy attack. Since
transports carried cargo and troops, they were not allowed to be marked with
the Red Cross and were legitimate military targets. Fighter coverage was
provided in some combat theaters.
Use of Air
Evacuation in World War II
Air Evacuation Transport Squadrons served in World War II in every combat
theater. In all, 1,172,000 patients were transported by air. About half were ambulatory
patients (the “walking wounded”) and half were litter patients. Only 46
patients died in flight, although several hundred died in crashes. By 1944, 18
percent of all Army casualties were evacuated by air.
|C-54 Skymaster transport plane|
The C-47 was the
workhorse of air evacuation. This dependable two-engine plane was used for
shorter flights within a combat theater and could fly into forward landing
strips close to the battlefield. A C-47 carried 18-24 patients, depending on
how many were on litters.
flights, the four-engine C-54 Skymaster was used. The preferred load for a C-54
was 18 litter patients and 24 ambulatory. These flights carried patients from
the combat theater stateside when the patient required 90-180 days of recovery
or was eligible for medical discharge.
Commando was used less frequently. Although it could carry 33 patients, the
cargo door made loading difficult, and the plane had an unsavory habit of
exploding when the cabin heater was used.
evacuation revolutionized the care of the wounded. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower
credited air evacuation, sulfa drugs, penicillin, and the use of plasma and
whole blood as key factors in the significant drop in the mortality rate among
the wounded from World War I to World War II.
Links, Mae Mills & Coleman, Hubert
A. Medical Support of the Army Air Forces
in World War II. Office of the Surgeon General, USAF. Washington, DC. 1955.
F. Development of Aeromedical Evacuation
in the USAF: 1909-1960. USAF Historical Division, Research Studies
Institute, Air University, 1960. Available free online at http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/AAF/AAFHS/AAFHS-23.pdf
Labels: air evacuation, flight nurses, World War II