top of page
C-5 Galaxy - Modern Flight

Humanitarian Missions

Humanitarian airlift is a U.S. tradition older than the U.S. Air Force.  It is almost as old as military aviation itself.  Just twelve years after the establishment in 1907 of the Signal Corps' Aeronautical Division, the airplane became an instrument of disaster relief.  Humanitarian airlift missions continued through the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression.  Even the vast commitments of World War II did not halt humanitarian airlifts by the U.S. military.  The USAF continued the relief airlift tradition during the Cold War and beyond, conducting about 560 relief airlifts in the years between its establishment in 1947 as an independent service and 1994.

Throughout the Travis Heritage Center there are displays of humanitarian missions.  The earliest display is that of a beautifully restored Stinson L-5 “Sentinel” airlifting a wounded WW II soldier out of harms way.


Stinson L-5 “Sentinel” - Serial Number 42-03917

Stinson Aircraft were known for their strength and durability.  During World War II, as the Army and Army Air Forces advanced, they saw a need for a light observation, air artillery spotter and air ambulance aircraft.  Ideally, they needed an airplane that could land on unimproved strips near the front lines.

With this in mind, Stinson proposed lengthening its model 105 "Voyager" to accommodate two litter patients, and widening the entry door and window for greater visibility and ease of loading. This aircraft became known as the Stinson L-5 "Sentinel."

Although the L-5 served in both the European and Pacific Theaters, it is best known for its work in the jungles of the South Pacific.  Flying from airstrips carved out of the jungle, the L-5s would fly to the front lines with communications information, ammunition, food and medical supplies.  On the return trip, she brought the worst of the wounded soldiers back for medical attention.  Operating in the jungles of New Guinea, one group called themselves the "Guinea Short Lines" Many of the soldiers called the L-5s "Swamp Angel."

WWII Stinson L-5 “Sentinel” Medical Airlift

WWII Stinson L-5 “Sentinel” Medical Airlift


  • Wing Span  34'0"

  • Length  24'1"

  • Height  7'11 "

  • Maximum Speed  130 M.P.H.

  • Ceiling  15,800 Ft.

  • Range  270 Miles

  • Crew  2 or one pilot and two litter patients

  • Engine  1 x Lycomming 0-435-1, 4 cylinder engine developing 190 h.p.

David Grant Hospital volunteers created this WW II “Mash” unit (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital). The David Grant USAF Medical Center (DGMC) at Travis AFB, California, is the Air Force’s largest medical facility on the west coast. Serving military beneficiaries throughout eight western states, it is a beautiful milestone in the history of the Air Force’s Medical Service.

Sentinel N6438C Flight at Priory Farm, Norfolk, England

Operation "Babylift"

Operation "Babylift"


This was the name given to the mass evacuation of orphans from South Vietnam to the United States and other countries (including, for example, Australia) at the end of the Vietnam War during April 1975.  By the final American flight out of South Vietnam, over 2,000 infants and children had been evacuated.

Today, Humanitarian Missions are a part of the daily life of the men and women of the United States military.  The Travis Team is major part of this mission.  From Sarajevo to earthquakes in Los Angeles to Tsunamis in the South Pacific to hurricanes in New Orleans, they are there.

Expeditionary Medical Support (EMEDS) Unit

Improvements in the deployment process since the 1991 Gulf War have resulted in a more fit and healthy fighting force.  Our military now finds itself engaged in war on multiple fronts -- in fact, a greater percentage of our troops are deployed, in more locations, for longer periods of time, than at any time since the Vietnam War.

Improvements have covered pre-deployment health to post-deployment screening and counseling.  We believe in a life-cycle approach to health care that starts with accession and lasts as long as the member is in uniform, and beyond.  Air Force Medical Service (AFMS) airmen are also more prepared than ever.  Training such as our advanced trauma training and our Readiness Skills Verification Program assure our wartime skills are current.

The move to expeditionary medicine has enabled the Air Force Medical Service to send medical forces forward rapidly, both in the initial deployment of Operation Enduring Freedom and now Operation Iraqi Freedom.  The capabilities we bring to the fight today provide troops a level of care that was unimaginable just 10 years ago -- capabilities that make us a lighter, smarter, faster ... medical service.

A key component of this change has resulted in preventive medicine teams arriving in deployed locations on the very first planes. These small teams provide vital food- and water-safety capability. They also begin collecting environmental and hazard data, work closely on tent siting, and provide basic medical care.

The surgical units, or Expeditionary Medical Support units called EMEDS, can be on the ground shortly thereafter - within as little as three to five hours.

EMEDS are comprised of rapidly deployable medical teams that can range from large tented facilities with specialized services to five-person teams carrying backpacks. These five-person mobile field surgical teams travel with 70-pound backpacks which hold enough medical equipment to perform 10 life-saving surgeries anywhere, at anytime and under any conditions.

In six months supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, one field team performed 100 in-the-field surgeries; 39 were combat surgeries.  When our sick or injured troops must be removed from the theater and transported to definitive care, we have a state-of-the-art aeromedical evacuation system.  The newly created patient support pallets, which are rolled onto transport aircraft (such as the C-5 Galaxy, C-17 Globemaster III or KC-10 Extender), unfolded, unpacked, and within minutes, convert that aircraft into an aeromedical evacuation platform -- a "monumental advancement" from the Air Force's traditional use of dedicated platforms like the now-retired C-9 Nightingale, or extensive reconfigurations of other transport aircraft.  This saves cargo space, but, more importantly, it saves lives.

The ability to move large numbers of more critically injured patients by our outstanding aeromedical evacuation teams have been enhanced by the addition of critical care air transport teams, which attend to patients throughout some flights, providing life-saving, intensive care in the air.  In 2002, 1,352 patients were transported in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, of whom 128 were critically ill or injured.  It is important to note that these new programs can be woven seamlessly into the joint medical capability.  Together, the three medical services (Army, Navy and Air Force) have built an interlocking system of care for every airman, soldier, sailor, Marine and Coast Guardsman.

While troops are in theater, their health surveillance continues. Using automated systems, we have documented and centrally stored more than 11,600 deployed patient records since 9-11.  The tools are now in place to collect relevant environmental health data and forward them for centralized analysis. This linkage between individual patient encounters and environmental data is critical to any future epidemiology studies.

The Wide World of Humanitarian Missions

Humanitarian missions involve the airlift of relief workers, equipment, or supplies to victims of natural disasters, major accidents, civil conflicts, or political emergencies.

These missions entail air evacuation from dangerous areas, aerial spraying of insecticide or fire-retardant chemicals, air rescue from shipwrecks, flooded areas, or other emergency situations and even airdrops of food to snowbound livestock or Antarctic scientists.


Operation "Babylift"

bottom of page