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We tour the Orbis DC-10 Flying Eye Hospital


In the 1970s, Houston ophthalmologist Dr. David Paton had a bold vision – to use aviation to deliver medical education to the eyes of the world. Motivated by the fact that 80% of the world's visual disability can be avoided through treatment or prevention, Dr. Paton recruited a small group of philanthropists, doctors, and aviators – including Betsy Trippe DeVecchi (daughter of Juan Trippe, founder of Pan American Airways) and A L Ueltschi (founder and chairman of FlightSafety International) – and established Project ORBIS in 1973.

In 1980 Eddie Carlson, former chairman of United Airlines, agreed to donate United’s oldest DC-8 aircraft to the Project. With a grant from USAID and funds from private donors, extensive modifications were made to the plane to convert it into a fully functional teaching eye hospital. Staffed by a highly-skilled team of ophthalmologists, anesthesiologists, nurses and biomedical technicians, the ORBIS DC-8 Flying Eye Hospital took off from Houston, Texas for its first program in Panama in the spring of 1982.


By 1992 the DC-8 was more than 30 years old, and replacement parts were becoming more difficult and expensive to obtain. ORBIS programs were also expanding in scope, and it became clear that a newer, larger aircraft was needed to replace the DC-8. In 1992, with donations from three very generous individuals, ORBIS purchased a DC-10, which had more than twice the interior space of the original plane.

ORBIS recently announced that it has begun the process of replacing the DC-10 Flying Eye Hospital with a newer, more efficient aircraft. The new Flying Eye Hospital will be a MD-10 aircraft, donated by FedEx and powered by engines from United Airlines. It is currently undergoing maintenance at Aeronavali in Venice, Italy and interior installation will begin later this year. Once brought into service—anticipated late 2012—it is expected to meet ORBIS’ needs for a full 20 years


Seventeen cameras, eight microphones, and 54 video monitors are stationed throughout the plane and are controlled in the audiovisual studio. The system permits viewing of live surgery anywhere on the plane and allows for live interaction between people in the classroom and those in the operating room. Surgeries are also recorded, edited, and duplicated in DVD format on board the ORBIS DC-10, and a record of the procedures taught during each program are donated to the host country’s ophthalmic community.


Over the years, the flight deck of the ORBIS DC-10 has undergone several modifications in order to comply with FAA requirements. In 2002, the navigation system was upgraded to a Honeywell HP9100 GPS, courtesy of Honeywell and Goodrich Aviation Services. The DC-10 is TCAS or ACAS equipped, also courtesy of Honeywell. The aircraft is approved for RVSM (Reduced Vertical Separation Minima) and for 8.33 MHz radio channels.


Laser Treatment Room


Operating Room


The operating room must be positioned in the most stable area of the plane so that surgery can be performed on the ground in any type of weather. The area between the wings of the aircraft, where the main landing gear is located, is the most stable part of the aircraft. Additional measures were also taken to stabilize the floor of the operating room. During the renovation process, the floor of the operating room was replaced with the same type of floor material that is installed in a cargo plane.


Sterilization Room


Recovery Room


History of DC-10 N220AU, s/n 46501

1970 the second DC-10-10 rolls off the McDonnell-Douglas assembly line in Long Beach, California and serves as test aircraft registered N101AA.

1977 Freddie Laker of Laker Airways Ltd buys the plane and re-registers it G-BELO. 1982 Laker Airways Ltd ceases operations and the plane is stored by WFU

1983 American Trans Air buys the plane and re-registers it N183AT

1985 Omni International Jet Trading Floor acquires the plane

1986 Cal-Air International acquires the plane and re-registers it G-GCAL. 1988 Cal-Air changes its name to Novair International

1990 The plane is transferred to Rank Organization and Financing Company and stored in Prestwick, Scotland and later in Waco, Texas

1991 ORBIS receives a total of $14 million in donations in order to purchase the plane. Proceeds come from three major sources: A L Ueltschi, president of FlightSafety International and chairman of the ORBIS International, donates US $6 million; Y C Ho, a Hong Kong businessman, donates $7 million; and an anonymous donor donates the remaining $1 million

1992 ORBIS purchases and registers the plane as N220AU

1994 ORBIS DC-8 is formally retired and the ORBIS DC-10 takes over as the world’s only Flying Eye Hospital and completes its in augural mission to Beijing, China

2008 ORBIS begins planning for next generation Flying Eye Hospital 2010 MD-10 aircraft donated to ORBIS by FedEx to be used as the next generation Flying Eye Hospital powered by engines supplied by United Airlines.


ORBIS Canada Website


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