One of the main themes of AirVenture 2021 was a salute to humanitarian aviation, and this 1969 vintage Douglas DC-8-72, Serial Number 46013/Line Number 427, fits the bill perfectly. This almost 54-year-old DC-8 was originally delivered as DC-8-62CF (Convertible Freighter) to Finnair in January of that year. Finnair would pass this aircraft to the French Air Force in 1981, which saw the original Pratt and Whitney JT3D-3B engines replaced with the CFM International CFM56-2 engines, this is where the designation was changed from a 62CF to a 72CF. The French Air Force would operate this aircraft until November of 2004, Air Transport International would take delivery of the aircraft in July of 2005 and operated it in a “Combi” configuration, carrying passengers in the rear and cargo in the front of the aircraft. Air Transport International would retire the aircraft in December of 2013 and placed it into storage. The Australian airline Transpacific Heavylift would acquire the aircraft in October of 2014, they had plans to use the airframe for spare parts. In would step Samaritan’s Purse, they would acquire the aircraft in March of 2015 and would reregister the aircraft in June of 2015 to its current registration of N782SP.
Our story would actually begin the year after this DC-8 would be built, when Samaritan’s Purse was founded by Bob Pierce. The name of the organization is based on the New Testament Parable of the Good Samaritan. This is a parable that Jesus uses to teach people a form of the Golden Rule; “Love your neighbor as yourself.” His mission for this organization was “To meet the emergency needs in crisis areas through existing evangelical mission agencies and national churches.” Bob Pierce would dedicate himself to finding and supporting other such Christians who were caring for the poor and suffering in distant corners of the world. In 1973 Bob Pierce would met his eventual successor, Franklin Graham, son of the late Christian Evangelist Billy Graham. Bob Pierce would pass from Leukemia in 1978, with Franklin Graham being named the President and Chairman of Samaritan’s Purse. Franklin Graham has led the organization for over 40 years, under his leadership the ministry has seen nonstop growth. The Samaritan’s Purse website sums up there mission perfectly; “Samaritan’s Purse travels the world’s highways looking for victims along the way. We are quick to bandage the wounds we see, but like the Samaritan, we do not stop there. In addition to meeting immediate and emergency needs, we help these victims recover and get back on their feet.” Since 1975 the organization has used numerous aircraft to aid victims of natural disasters, famines and wars but is was becoming evident that an aircraft would be needed to greatly increase capacity and response time globally.
Samaritan’s Purse would spend over a year inspecting and refurbishing N782SP to ensure the aircraft met FAA standards. In April of 2016 a major earthquake struck the country of Ecuador, the FAA certified N782SP less than 24 hours prior, and would make multiple trips delivering critical supplies and medical staff to the region. This DC-8’s impressive 7,000 nautical mile range, the ability to operate on runways less than 8,000 feet long, and a payload of 84,000 pounds, and carry 32 passengers has greatly increased the response time to any crisis around the world, this is exactly the aircraft that the organization needed. In the years since the that first mission in 2016, the DC-8 has flown almost 150 missions to locations such as Iraq, Puerto Rico, Antigua, Bangladesh, Mozambique, The Bahamas, Italy, Lebanon, Alaska, Ethiopia, Honduras, and many more. In the same time frame the DC-8 has carried almost 6 million pounds of cargo, cargo which has included food, water, blankets, emergency shelter materials, water filtration units, along with cooking and hygiene kits. The DC-8 can also carry a specialized mobile field hospital to areas in need. This capability would become critical in 2020 when the Covid-19 Pandemic started to impact the world. This emergency field hospital was deployed in March of 2020 to Italy and also the Bahamas in October of 2020. This mobile hospital along with the teams of medical professionals brought much needed relief and hope to overwhelmed local healthcare systems.
The DC-8 can operate from airports with minimal ground support equipment and can carry the critical equipment to operate if it is not available at the airport they need to utilize. The aircraft can carry relief supplies on 10 108”x88” pallets on the main deck and bulk loaded cargo in the lower bellies. If ground equipment is not available to assist in the offload of these supplies the crew is prepared and has offloaded the aircraft by hand. The organization has the DC-8 based and hangered at the Greensboro Piedmont Triad International Airport and is crewed by some of the most experienced DC-8 flight crews in the world. Quoting once again from the Samaritan’s Purse website; “No matter where we go or what we do, we offer more than help. We offer hope. To suffering people in a broken world, we share the news of the only One who can bring true peace- Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace.” This DC-8, the flight crews, everyone that volunteers their time in support of the organization, the employees, and the generous financial support from people and corporations alike will continue to bring that hope for many more years to come.
I cannot thank everyone enough in the Samaritan’s Purse Organization for their time, hospitality, and help in preparing this article. Until next time, “Blue Skies to All!”