US Air Force tests dropping blood from aircraft

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Engineers at the US Air Force’s Eglin range in Florida have run a series of tests to see if fresh blood can withstand being air dropped in an operation called Blood Rain.

The blood, packaged in a cooler and attached to a parachute, was pushed out of a C-145A for the test during April this year. The goal of the study was to determine if fresh blood could withstand an airdrop to combat medics in austere environments.

Providing blood to the critically injured is a life-saving treatment combat medics can apply to keep service members alive until they can get them to a higher level of care like an airfield hospital, according to Maj. Roselyn Fuentes, 96th Medical Group and member of the research team.

This study, an Air Force Materiel Command Spark Tank semi-finalist, began as a dinner conversation during a combat aviation advisor team’s high altitude and cold weather training.  The idea was “sparked” by the time and resource intensive process of collecting fresh whole blood during their recent training as well as the various remote CAA deployment locations.

Air Force Special Operations Command’s CAAs carry out foreign internal defense, security force assistance and unconventional warfare tasks.  The CAA tag incorporates a variety of Air Force career fields.

The project team, made up of 96th Medical Group doctors and 492nd Special Operations Wing CAAs began in earnest in January to lay out the logistics, coordination and the tactical process of the study.

The nature of the CAA unit with its teams of medics, pilots and aircrew flight equipment, made for easy communication of the requirements for the project.  This benefit specially enabled the team to move fast and compress Operation Blood Rain’s timeline from concept to action.

The 492nd SOW’s Combat Coyotes were used for the initial tests.  Teams dropped saline from the aircraft to test the delivery system prior to the actual blood drop.

On the day of the drop, blood from volunteers was placed into bags and vials.  The vials would be the control group and the four 350 milliliter bags would be placed into a cooled secure box.

The box was attached to a parachute and given to the Coyote’s aircrew.  Part of the C-145 mission, located at Duke Field, is air drop training.

The C-145 passed over the drop zone at about 200ft flying at approximately 115mph.  The loadmaster released the box of blood out of the aircraft and the parachute opened shortly after.

Operation Blood Rain’s research team waited on the ground and watched as it drifted down.

The blood landed safely and was examined for any visible damage on scene. Eglin’s medical laboratory technicians analyzed the blood with the control group to see any changes or damage that would not allow it to be used due to the drop and impact. The Eglin lab team concluded there was no break down or disintegration in the red blood cells of the airdropped blood samples.

The research team determined an airdrop is a viable way of delivering blood to combat medics treating hemorrhaging patients in a pre-hospital setting.  However, further research is required to fully validate the safety of the method.

The team’s next step is to continue to develop the blood drops with various aircraft and ground conditions to determine the results are replicable.

An ultimate goal of the research team would be for drones to deliver vital blood to combat medics in the field.  These deliveries would help extend the “golden hour” or period of time following a traumatic injury when there is the highest likelihood that prompt medical and surgical treatment would prevent death.

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About Author

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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering almost all aspects of technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before eventually becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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