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Jan. 25, 2011—
At the beginning of Afghanistan war, C-141 transports formed the backbone of USAF's long-haul aeromedical evacuation.

With their retirement in 2006, service officials pressed the KC-135 tanker into that role.

That transition has not been easy, but airmen have successfully transformed the KC-135 into a capable aeromedevac platform.

"There's been a huge investment of time, energy to make those planes adequate airframes to carry patients," Col. Bruce Guerdin, a Critical Care Air Transport Team doctor with the Florida Air National Guard, told the Daily Report.

He added, "We've changed the lighting, oxygen system, stanchions for the stretchers—that plane has been turned into something it never was."

While C-17s are the "premiere platform" for aeromedevac, they are extremely high-in-demand assets, said Brig. Gen. John Owen, the Air Guard physician instrumental in ANG's participation in the CCATT mission, which transports seriously injured from the front back to the US.

KC-135s are attractive for aeromedevac because they can fly unrefueled to the United States from Afghanistan, plus "they're a fast aircraft [and] they're available," said Owen.

Speed and range aside, the key to the tanker's unlikely success has been innovation. Suffering from poor lighting and insufficient electrical power, KC-135s could originally carry only a single CCATT patient.

Within weeks of an incident in which a KC-135 was forced to turn back with a patient onboard, airmen with the Kansas ANG's 190th Air Refueling Wing at Forbes Field developed a generator and modified lighting to alleviate the problem.

Through innovation and improvements, a "cramped airplane" has been transformed into a "very capable air-evac platform," said Owen.