Articles

This is how medical evacuations have evolved over the last 145 years

Medical treatment is a crucial element on the battlefield, helping keep troops in the fight and boost morale with the knowledge that if you're hurt by the bad guys, someone's got your back and will get you out of harms way.


While past wars featured medical evacuations draped over the shoulder of a comrade or on the back of a horse, technology has progressed to include a more effect way to get the wounded back to hospitals through the air.

In one of the first true MEDEVAC operations during the Siege of Paris in 1870, balloons were used to rescue civilians and soldiers in the Franco-Prussian war.

An early photo of the first balloon out of Paris during the Siege.

It's reported that another of the first aerial MEDEVACs took place during World War I when an unknown Serbian officer flew a French Air Service plane with an injured comrade to a hospital. Back then, an injured soldier's mortality rate decreased from 60 percent to 10 percent using aircraft to get them to medical care.

French aircraft flying over German held territory, 1915.

At this point, all documented MEDEVACs had involved fixed wing airplanes.

In April 1944, an Army Air Forces aircraft carrying Army Staff Sgt. Ed "Murphy" Hladovka and three wounded British soldiers was forced to land deep behind enemy lines near Mawlu, Burma. Then a brave Lt. Carter Harman flew his defenseless Sikorsky YR-4B into harms way, rescuing the four stranded men. The helicopter was so small it took four trips to lift everyone to safety.

Carter Harman with ground crew in India

Acclaimed aeronautical engineer Igor Sikorsky once said, "If a man is in need of rescue, an airplane can come in and throw flowers on him, and that's just about all. But a direct lift aircraft could come in and save his life."

During the Korean War, helicopters were more widely used in medical transport, spawning the growth of auxiliary surgical hospitals — later renamed to Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals, or "M.A.S.H."

Inside a real Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War.

With this medical expansion considered a huge success, the U.S. began beefing up its medical wards on Navy ships, adding dozens of beds and expanding the number of surgical rooms to handle the incoming patients. An estimated 20,000 Americans had been successfully evacuated and treated during the war.

It wasn't until Vietnam where things kicked into high gear. The UH-1 Huey was big enough that it could carry medical personnel and the wounded on the same bird. This reduced the mortality rate to one dead per 100 causalities.

Combat Medics load wounded soldiers on to a UH-1 Huey in Vietnam.

Entering service in the 1970's, the UH-60 Black Hawk provided even more room for medical personnel render more complicated medical treatments while in flight on multiple patients. Today, the Black Hawk is the go-to helo for MEDEVACs.

Equipped with the latest in defensive technology and maneuvering capabilities, the UH-60 Black Hawk has the ability to head out into some pretty dangerous situations and land on rough terrain to secure those men and women in need of top medical care.

"Dust-Off" crew members in flight headed towards the wounded.

Today, with the average response time decreasing, the survival rate for the wounded troops has reached an all-time high of a 92 percent.

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