McDonnell Douglas C-9 Nightingale


The C-9A Nightingale demonstrates its uniqueness and versatility daily by its ability to serve not only military, but Department of Veterans Affairs and civilian hospitals throughout the world, using military and commercial airfields. It is the only aircraft in the USAF inventory specifically designed for the movement of litter and ambulatory patients.


Experience gained in the early stages of American involvement in the Vietnam War highlighted the need for a medium-range aeromedical transport, and as a relatively low-cost expedient, an initial order for eight ‘off-the-shelf’ commercial McDonnell Douglas DC-9 Series 30 airliners was placed to be set aside for military conversion. Modifications included the provision of a special-care compartment, galleys and toilets fore and aft, and the addition of a third access door 11 feet, 4 inches (3.45m) wide in the front fuselage with a built-in hydraulic ramp to facilitate the loading of litters. Accommodation was provided for up to 40 litters and 40 ambulatory patients, two nurses and three aeromedical attendants.

The first C-9A was rolled out on 17 June 1968 and delivered to Scott AFB two months later; subsequent aircraft served with the 375th Aeromedical Airlift Wing of MAC (now 375th AW of AMC), and later with the 55th AAS of the 435th Tactical Airlift Wing (now 86th AW at Ramstein). Later orders brought the total deliveries to 21, in addition to three C-9C executive transports flown by the 89th Military Airlift Wing at Andrews AFB, MD. In addition to these operators, the C-9 is flown by the 374th AW at Yokota, while the 73rd AAS is an Air Force Reserve Associate unit at Scott, supplying aircrews to augment the active-duty crews.


This specialized aircraft incorporates:

  • Ceiling receptacles for securing intravenous bottles.
  • A special care area with a separate ventilation system for patients requiring isolation or intensive care.
  • Eleven vacuum and therapeutic oxygen outlets, positioned in sidewall service panels at litter tier locations.
  • A 28v DC outlet in the special care area.
  • Twenty-two 115v AC-60 hertz electrical outlets located throughout the cabin permit the use of cardiac monitors, respirators, incubators and infusion pumps at any location within the cabin.
  • A medical refrigerator for preserving whole blood and biological drugs.
  • A medical supply work area with sink, medicine storage section and work table, fore-and-aft galleys and lavatories.
  • Aft-facing commercial airline-type seats for ambulatory patients.
  • A station for a medical crew director that includes a desk communication panel and a control panel to monitor cabin temperature, therapeutic oxygen and vacuum system.
  • An auxiliary power unit that provides electrical power for uninterrupted cabin air conditioning, quick servicing during stops, and self-starting for the twin jet engines.

Skytrain II

A subsequent version of the DC-9 was developed as the C-9B Skytrain II, ordered by the U.S. Navy as a fleet logistic transport. Combining features of both the DC-9 Series 30 and 40, a total of 19 aircraft were delivered to Navy logistic support squadrons in the U.S. and two to the Marine Corps’ Station Operations and Engineering Squadron at Cherry Point MCAS, NC. The Navy subsequently purchased 10 similar DC-9-30s.


Official DesignationC-9A Nightingale
Primary RoleAeromedical evacuation (Med-Evac)
Secondary RoleTroop transport
National OriginUSA
Original ContractorMcDonnell Douglas Corporation
OperatorUnited States Air Force, United States Navy
Wingspan93 feet, 3 inches (27.9m)
Length119 feet, 3 inches (35.7m)
Height at Tail27 feet, 5 inches (8.2m)
EnginesTwo Pratt & Whitney JT8D-9A turbofans
Thrust14,500 pounds (64.5kN) per engine
Cruise Speed525 mph (845km/h)
Max Speed565 mph (910km/h)
Range1,739 nm (3,220km)
Service Ceiling35,000 feet (10,606m)
Operating Weight57,190 pounds (25,940kg)
Max Payload31,125 pounds (14,118kg)
Max Takeoff Weight108,000 pounds (48,600kg)
Basic CrewEight
Date Deployed1968
Total in ServiceUnknown