• Flying Eye Hospital: A medicalised airplane for humanitarian tasks

We have all seen photographs and videos of large aeroplanes converted to absolutely wonderful mansions but have you ever seen an aeroplane turned into a hospital?

Medicalised aeroplanes, also called air ambulances, are set up to include the tools and essential materials needed to provide emergency treatment, medicines and equipment to patients in need of urgent medical assistance.

In today’s post, we talk about medicalised aeroplanes, the different types there are, how they operate and, above all else, we’ll learn a little more about the Flying Eye Hospital, the only aeroplane-hospital which is currently in operation. You’re welcome to join us.

Medicalised aeroplanes’ mission

Medicalised aeroplanes are essential for national or international sanitary transport or the transportation of people suffering from serious diseases, having had accidents or in medical emergency situations and in need of being repatriated, amongst others.

Of course, just as in the case of ambulances, medicalised aeroplanes are equipped with all kinds of vital medical tools, state-of-the-art technology to treat any medical casualty and incorporate a massive supply of drugs to provide patient support.

As well as the corresponding crew, made up of pilots and cabin attendants, a medicalised aeroplane or air ambulance will carry a team of doctors and nurses who are specially qualified in aviation medicine.

Flying Eye Hospital: an authentic aero-medical hospital that is also a university

Although it could well be taken for a regular aeroplane when seen only on the outside, the reality is quite something else.

The Flying Eye Hospital is a joint project which saw its beginnings in the 80s, from the American NGO Orbis and The Catholic Chilean University, made up of a personnel of 28 ophthalmologists, nurses, anaesthetists and care assistants from up to 15 different countries.

They all work on board the only air hospital in the world to carry out eye surgery as well as train doctors from underdeveloped countries in performing ophthalmological operations by use of the latest techniques.

And here’s a fact: it is estimated that 80% of all ophthalmic diseases are treatable, meaning, in most cases, the difference between a patient surviving or not lies in the training and equipment available to doctors wherever they may be.

Flying Eye operations: How is an aeroplane hospital organised?

When the aeroplane arrives at its destination, the members of the team prepare everything so the mission can commence.

Once the aeroplane is ready, the medical team and surgeons get started with the most serious operations which are also opportunities to provide training for local care professionals. Another area is habilitated to treat patients with minor ailments.

The whole process is carried out within the aeroplane, therefore, great coordination is required with the airport´s authorities to allow the transit of people from one place to another.

At the moment, in order to be fully functional, the Flying Eye Hospital needs a minimum of 14 professionals. And before each mission, Orbis can take up to 18 months to program and coordinate all the interventions taking place.

The different aeroplanes used as part of the project

The story of the Flying Eye Hospital starts in 1980, when United Airlines donated their last DC-8 to the NGO. The DC-8 is a four-engine North American aeroplane that flew for the first time in 1958. Its design allows it to carry large quantities of cargo, so it was the perfect choice to be converted into a hospital.

In 1982, the actress and North American philanthropist Dina Merrill, baptised the aeroplane before its first mission which took place in Panama. During its first years of service, the flying hospital achieved great popularity and recognition amongst North American society.

In 1992, Orbis gets a new aeroplane, a DC-10 that doubles the size of the DC-8, allowing for the aeroplanes’ equipment to increase. Additionally, in that first decade, great advances in material used for ophthalmological interventions were made and taken advantage of to update its equipment.

In 2016, FedEx donates an MD-10, which, thanks to the collaboration of different companies and organisms, is equipped with the most modern of technologies. The MD-10 also boasts a range that doubles that of its predecessor and only two rather than three pilots are required to fly it.

At present, volunteers from FedEx are the pilots in charge of flying this plane.

Visit the Flying Eye medicalised aeroplane virtually

And, well, as you can imagine, actually visiting the aeroplane would be quite difficult. So Orbis has designed a virtual tour for all aero nerds like us to take a peek inside.

Sam Chui, the well-known aviation youtuber has also posted a video on board the aeroplane. Don’t miss it!

We hope you’ve found this article useful and you’ve learnt a little more about medicalised aeroplanes and the incredible job Orbis is doing with its Flying Eye Hospital.

If you’d like to discover more interesting aviation facts, we suggest you take a look at our aviation blog where you can read about how to plan a flight route, what aircraft livery is, or even how are aeroplanes and birds similar. Don’t miss them!

You may be interested in…