FLYING EYE HOSPITAL DESIGN AND EVOLUTION
The ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital (FEH) operation began in 1982, when for the first time; a fully-equipped, state-of-the-art teaching hospital was installed on an airplane. A DC-8 aircraft donated by United Airlines
(UAL) was modified and reconfigured to house an ophthalmologic hospital suite and classroom.
The DC-8 FEH was in operation for over 10 years. Yet, with rising fuel costs, maintenance expense and noise issues, ORBIS elected to replace the DC-8 platform with a DC-10 Series 10 aircraft in 1992. The newer DC-10 offered a wider fuselage cross section, more efficient operational capabilities, and larger operator base to enable ORBIS to call on the resources of three major US trunk carriers: UAL, American Airlines (AA), and FedEx for support. The DC-10, N220AU, was built in 1969 and went into operation in commercial service in 1971. The aircraft, “Ship 2”, was the second DC-10 produced by McDonnell Aircraft Company.
The current DC-10 FEH was a significant upgrade, especially in the arrangement of the medical facilities onboard. The classroom was expanded to accommodate over 48 seats in the forward cabin. Here, healthcare professionals can view first hand and in real time, medical procedures being performed in the operating room on the aircraft. There is increased space for pre-op testing / screening / and evaluation, laser treatment, recovery room facilities and administrative space. On the main deck, a fully equipped audio-visual suite is installed allowing operations to be transmitted to the classroom or to off-aircraft venues and for the production of materials to be left in-country for use by the medical community after the aircraft departed. The larger lower cargo compartment was suited to enable ORBIS to carry ground support equipment, hospital supplies and house a biomedical workspace.
After two decades of operation, the DC-10 is being replaced by a MD-10 FEH. With the cessation of DC-10 operations by AA and UAL, ORBIS relies almost exclusively on FedEx for flight crews, maintenance and operational support as well as engineering and parts. FedEx phased out DC-10 operations in 2010, having modified its fleet of 83 DC-10 aircraft to MD-10s (a DC-10 fuselage with a flight deck common to the MD-11). With an MD-10 aircraft, the infrastructure and support previously afforded by FedEx can be extended to the ORBIS MD-10 and the operation of the FEH can continue for another 20 years.
Multiple design concepts were evaluated for the MD-10 FEH, In late 2010, it was determined and approved by the ORBIS International Board of Directors to pursue an onboard modular design concept.
The modular design concept requires a multidisciplinary cooperative effort to address the challenges of designing and certifying the modules, the interface of the various “hospital containers”, environmental issues, pneumatic and electrical requirements, maintaining the ability to carry staff during flight and the overall function and utility of the hospital and training facility. The project’s foundation is the generous donation of the MD-10-30F (N301FE) by FedEx and a $10 million gift from ORBIS Co-Founder A.L. Ueltschi. United Airlines is powering the MD-10 FEH through the engine donation off of the aircraft N323FE.
Mobile Medical International Corporation (MMIC) is working with ORBIS on the hospital interior design and installation. MMIC specializes in mobile solutions designed to meet healthcare industry standards and regulations to provide equivalency of care in remote settings.
The aviation community continues to support ORBIS and the Flying Eye Hospital through the MD-10 Project. Several aviation companies and firms, including FedEx engineers, the Boeing Company, and smaller engineering firms are providing their expertise and guidance on the unique design.
The MD-10 Project is a collaborative effort made possible by innovative and cooperative project partners. As the project progresses, ORBIS will reach out to both the medical and aviation communities to promote ORBIS’ work to save sight worldwide for another two decades through the MD10 Flying Eye Hospital.