Orbis Unveils Its New Flying Eye Hospital

The McDonnell Douglas DC-10 has carried out a number of different missions since first taking to the skies in 1970. Most notably it has served as a popular commercial airliner, operating flights all over the globe for over four decades. It has also served in the military as an aerial refueling tanker, as well as a testbed for missile defense sensors . A few DC-10s have even been converted into water tankers, taking advantage of the large capacity offered by its wide-body fuselage to fight wildfires. Currently you’re most likely to see a DC-10 as a cargo aircraft, flying for FedEx. Over the last decades FedEx has converted their sizable DC-10 fleet to MD-10s, providing an avionics and instrument display upgrade that allows for a two-person flight deck.

Cindy Crawford Tours World's Only Flying Eye Hospital

Orbis President and CEO Bob Ranck and Cindy Crawford pose in front of the new MD-10 during the unveiling at LAX in June.

The most unique DC-10 mission, however, is performed by Orbis International and their Flying Eye Hospital. Orbis is an international non-profit non-governmental organization (NGO) that strives to fight preventable blindness around the world.  Established in the early 1980s and based in New York, the organization has worked in 92 countries around the world. The centerpiece of their operation, the Flying Eye Hospital, serves as the world’s only mobile ophthalmic teaching hospital, carrying volunteer doctors to developing nations around the world to provide hands-on training to local doctors, nurses and technicians as well as to convey the know-how to continue restoring sight to patients in their countries. The organization’s original Flying Eye Hospital was a DC-8 which began flying in 1982. It was subsequently replaced by a DC-10-10 in 1994 which served for the next 22 years before being recently retired.

On June 2nd Orbis unveiled their third generation aircraft, an MD-10-30F donated by their longtime aviation sponsor FedEx, and NYCAviation was invited to tour the aircraft during its tour stop at Newark Liberty International Airport. The MD-10 will carry on the

A view of the Pre and Post Op Room

A view of the Pre and Post Op Room

organization’s mission utilizing the latest in audio visual and medical technology. FedEx will provide all the flight operation components including pilots, maintenance and ground support. Because FedEx has converted all of its DC-10s to MD-10s, this new aircraft -originally delivered to Trans International Airlines in 1973 before being acquired and later converted to an MD-10 by FedEx- will eliminate the need for the company to keep a subset of pilots trained on an obsolete type in order to fly Orbis missions.

In addition to having a more modern cockpit, Orbis’ MD-10 features a host of upgrades throughout its cabin. As one enters the forward cabin the aircraft looks like a typical airliner with 46 seats arranged in a 3-3-3 layout. This area serves as both a passenger section and classroom, complete with a 3-D video display that allows participants to get an immersive training experience while watching operations being performed in the operating room located in the aircraft’s mid-cabin. The airliner similarities effectively end once one passes the forward cabin and enters the “cargo” section of the aircraft. Orbis has setup the hospital section, including operating, laser, and recovery/waiting rooms, as portable modules that can be removed from the aircraft via the cargo door. This is a change from the permanently installed equipment in the DC-10 previously used. This allows Orbis to set-up and arrange the hospital as they please, bypassing airworthiness approvals since the modules are considered cargo.

Cutaway drawing of the Flying Eye Hospital

Cutaway drawing of the Flying Eye Hospital

The medical rooms in the mid and aft cabins are state-of-the-art and impressive. The Patient Care and Laser room provides a space for the evaluation of patients and training of caregivers. The Operating Room can handle multiple procedures per day, with a closed-circuit video feed that can be sent to the forward cabin classroom for observation and training. The Pre/Post-Op Room in the aft cabin serves as an area for patients to prepare for and recover from the performed procedures. Teddy bears with an eye patch are provided to comfort child patients. Spacious changing rooms in the back of the aircraft can be modified to observe local customs.

The Patient Care and Laser Room

The Patient Care and Laser Room

The hospital is completely self-sustainable, with support equipment carried in the lower cargo hold. This includes generators, water purifiers and oxygen concentrators, equipment that allows the temperature, airflow and humidity inside the aircraft to meet hospital standards regardless of external weather conditions.

In 2015 Orbis provided more than 2 million eye screenings and exams, 1.4 million of which were for children; 30,000 trainings to eye-care professionals; and nearly 66,000 eye surgeries, more than 24,000 of which were on children. Much of this work was performed on Orbis’ DC-10 Flying Eye Hospital.

The MD-10 Flying Eye Hospital will begin work this September on a trip to China. The recently retired DC-10 will be donated to the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, AZ.

To learn more about Orbis International, visit orbis.org

Gabe Andino is an Associate Editor for NYCAviation.com, aviation enthusiast and airport management professional residing in New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter.

About the Author

Gabe Andino
Gabe Andino is a Senior Producer for NYCAviation, aviation enthusiast and airport management professional residing in New Jersey.



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