Orbis MD-10's Mission: Medicine, Aviation, Technology & Innovation
"It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill."
It is hard to imagine what Wilbur would have thought about the aircraft I had the privilege to tour this week in Sacramento. The Orbis MD-10 was on display at the McClellan Jet Services hanger and since UC Davis and the UC Davis Eye Center are partners with ORBIS, I was invited to attend. Bob Rank the CEO for ORBIS spoke and referred to the aircraft as a testament to expertise in medicine, aviation, technology and innovation. It has a couple jet engines too by the way....but the knowledge, skill and dedication of the founders, doctors, nurses and volunteers are what really make it fly!
Orbis started in 1970 as an alliance between the medical and aviation industries with a focus on training doctors and nurses in developing countries. This resulted in the idea of a flying teaching hospital. With a USAID grant and private donors a journey began that lead to three generations of aircraft. The first was a DC-8 plane with a fully functional teaching eye hospital. This was replaced in 1992 by a wide-body DC-10. The DC-10 was replaced this year with a MD-10. In a typical mission, the team is in contact with local hospitals in other countries to determine what cases to take on during their visit. The goal is not to be a surgery factory, but a training facility, so cases are selected for their best training potential. Staff and volunteers work both in the local hospitals and on the aircraft during the visit to extend both the training and patient care.
The video below gives you an understanding of why they focused on eye care.
FedEx is an active sponsor of ORBIS and that explains a lot about where this aircraft came from. FedEx has a worldwide fleet of DC-10's but began to add McDonnell Douglas MD-11's. Boeing bought McDonnell Douglas and FedEx approached Boeing about retrofitting the cockpit of the DC-10's to match the MD-11's. This moved increased flexibility and reduced the size of the crew required to fly the plane. The DC-10's require a Captain, First Officer and Flight Engineer, but the MD-11 requires only the Captain and First Officer. These converted aircraft are referred to as MD-10's. This particular DC-10 was fully retrofitted to the MD-10 standard.... but that was just the beginning.
The interior was completely rebuilt to create a teaching hospital. Rooms were built as a series of containers with a "classroom" / passenger seating" area in the front separated from the cargo bays that make up the hospital rooms. This approach allowed the aircraft to be considered a cargo plane and utilize FedEx's extensive network of airports and hangers around the world.
This video explains how it was built.
This video is a tour of the interior and an explanation of how it is used.
The diagram below identifies the rooms and the gallery of photos is from the event my wife and I attended.
As a fan of flight simulators, who could pass up an opportunity to use an eye surgery simulator?
In the image above, needles on the left are inserted into small holes on the eyepiece on the dummy. I was given about thirty seconds of training and instructed to look through the 3d microscope and tap the red dots in the simulated eyeball so the dots turn green (see the monitor image). The image itself was high resolution and once you put the needle in the socket it show up in the image with the three dimensional position of the tip very clearly indicated. I kept digging into this poor guy's eye trying to hit the red dots and turn them green. I was able to get underneath them and push them forward, but no joy on the task at hand. When I started seeing evidence of scarring on the surface of his eye, I decided I better stop. I would not suggest you sign up anytime soon to have your eye surgery done by me!
What came through loud and clear at the event was the quality and caliber of the people involved. The crew gave the tours and they were very diverse, coming from all over the world. Every room had a different crew member and voices with a different accent from their country of origin. We spoke at length with a male nurse who was from the Philippines. He joined the crew a number of years ago and travels around the world, assisting with surgeries, visiting local hospitals and caring for patients.
"I do everything" he said, with a wide smile on his face.
While sitting on a sofa in the shade of the large hanger, enjoying the wine and hors d'oeuvres, Bob Rank, the CEO of Orbis came right up to my wife and I shook my hand and started a conversation. He answered a lot of our questions. He explained that the pilots are all volunteers from FedEx, the staff spend as many as 40 weeks a year in the air and that donors have come forward time and time again to support their mission. He face lit up when he described the collaboration with UC Davis and their Eye Center. Clearly he is inspired by his mission and the people around him.
Based on what we saw maybe Wilber Wright would not be surprised at all at of what Orbis has accomplished.
Not only can you make a plane fly with knowledge and skill, you can improve people's lives as well!
Credit: All the videos and diagrams attached came from the Orbis website located at www.orbis.org.