Should the Air Force demonstrate that blood can be dropped by parachute and be retrieved on the ground undamaged, combat medics in obscure locations would have another valuable tool by which they could save the lives of wounded troops.
Since the beginning of this year, several Air Force units have been conducting such tests at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Dubbed Operation Blood Rain, the idea for it originated during the Air Force Materiel Command Spark Tank competition earlier this month. A related study showed that airdropping “is a viable way” of delivering blood to medics who are treating casualties until they can be airlifted to hospitals. Nevertheless, questions about its viability and safety remained unanswered. Hence the testing process, which took place on Eglin’s range.
The two primary units executing Operation Blood Rain – the 96th Medical Group and the 492nd Special Operations Wing Combat Aviation Advisors (CAAs) – spent the initial portion of the testing process formulating a plan by which the testing process would evolve. For the first airdrops, the CAAs dropped saline that was securely packed. Once this proved successful, they then dropped bags and vials of blood that had been donated by volunteers. The blood was packed in four 350-milliliter bags, placed in a cooled box, attached to a parachute, and loaded onto a C-145 transport. The aircraft’s loadmaster released the box from the plane as it was flying at an altitude of 200 feet and traveling roughly 200 miles per hour. The blood landed safely, and further tests showed that there was no breakdown in its red blood cells.
While the research team was pleased with the outcome, they believe more research is necessary before the process can be adopted. They want to know if it is possible to deliver blood by airdrop from a variety of aircraft, and in a wide range of conditions. In time, they hope, drones could deliver blood to battlefield medics, who could then administer it to the wounded at the critical moments after sustaining traumatic injury, thus saving their lives.