MD-10 Flying Eye Hospital Unveiled at LAX


Orbis MD-10 on the ramp at LAX

Orbis Unveils its New MD-10 Flying Eye Hospital at LAX 

June 2, 2016 marks the beginning of a new chapter for Orbis in its worldwide fight against blindness. During an LAX press conference, held on board their new MD-10 Flying Eye Hospital (FEH), Orbis International introduced its third generation, state of the art, aircraft to the world. It took six years to build and it provides cutting edge technology over the DC-10 that Orbis operated for the last 22 years. The first generation jet aircraft that started it all in 1982 was a modified DC-8, formerly in service with United Airlines.

The World Health Organization estimates that there are 285 million people around the globe that are visually impaired or blind. Nearly 80% of this impairment could have been prevented or cured. Bob Ranck, the President and CEO of Orbis International, believes “no one should go blind from conditions that are treatable or preventable.”


 List of Orbis partners

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 FedEx/Orbis Captains Cynthia Berwyn, Gary Dyson and Cheryl Pitzer on the MD-10 flight deck

Keeping the FEH in the air and on course toward wiping out blindness requires considerable resources. The flight crews and medical staff are all volunteers. Additionally, Orbis has partnered with a number of sponsors that over the years have helped assure the success of its medical program.


 Volunteer Dr. Rosalind A. Stevens in the Orbis Operating Room

Alcon Vision Care has been a supporter of the Flying Eye Hospital for 30 years. The company manufactures the precision tools that skilled Orbis medical personnel use to perform life-changing surgery.

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 Omega Brand Ambassador, Cindy Crawford, talks about her experience with Orbis

The Omega watch company is another partner of Orbis, supporting the vital work it performs. Omega has produced insightful documentaries on the FEH that have facilitated raising awareness of the Orbis mission. In attendance at the LAX press conference was Omega brand ambassador, Cindy Crawford. In 2015, Crawford was featured in the Omega documentary The Hospital in the Sky. She and her daughter visited the FEH in the field during a trip it made to Peru.

Besides having the ability to get up and travel 6,000 miles to perform eye surgery, the FEH is a teaching vehicle. Its 3D technology and live broadcasting capability greatly facilitates its teaching role. It has flown to over 90 countries, serving as a training platform, partnering with local hospitals to train doctors, nurses and other health care workers. Dr. Daniel Neely, a professor of Ophthalmology and Orbis volunteer, teaches on the Web right from the jet. Orbis seeks to empower people by providing them with knowledge.

The new MD-10-30 FEH aircraft was donated to Orbis by FedEx. FedEx maintains the airplane, treating it as if it was part of their fleet. The MD-10 is a converted DC-10. There have been less than 80 such conversions. Today, FedEx is the only airline operating MD-10s. The mod consists primarily of a retrofit cockpit upgrade to an MD-11 flight deck which eliminates the need for a flight engineer. This Advanced Common Flight deck (ACF) also made a common type rating with the MD-11 possible. The change from a DC-10-10 to an MD-10-30 increased the range of the FEH from 4,000 to 6,000 miles.

The Orbis MD-10, FEH, N330AU, started life as a DC-10-30CF (convertible freighter). It was originally delivered to Trans International Airlines in April of 1973. Over the years, the airplane has gone from carrying passengers to a FedEx MD-10-30F (freighter) to what is now a semi-combi configuration.

The FEH has a number of dedicated areas on board the aircraft. Included are:

  • The Flight Deck.
  • A classroom/passenger compartment with 46 seats where live operations can be viewed. This area also serves as a passenger compartment during flight.
  • An Administrative Room for Orbis staff and volunteers.
  • An IT/AV Room, the communication center for the aircraft.
  • A Patient Care and Laser Room.
  • An Observation Room used for viewing live footage of surgical procedures
  • An Operating Room.
  • An Instrument Sterilization Room.
  • A Pre and Post-Operative Care or Recovery Room


 Floor plan of the Orbis MD-10 


 Laser Treatment Room


 Operating Room

The FEH is a forging of two highly technical industries, medicine and aviation. While they are integrated on the same aircraft, they remain separate from each other. The Flight Deck and Classroom are certified as aircraft. Separating these areas from the rest of the MD-10 is a 9G Rigid Cargo Barrier (RCB). The remaining medical area consists of nine modules which appear similar to a commercial cargo container. To accommodate the modules FedEx had to design a pallet much larger than anything that was currently in use. Like cargo containers, in a freighter environment, the modules are pushed through the aircraft’s cargo door on a system of rollers which is used to position each module inside the fuselage of the aircraft.

Structuring the aircraft to use modules is very cost effective because it requires less FAA certification. Additionally, a module can be removed and sent to a medical facility for upgrade.

The forward passenger area and the cargo area each have their own environmental and electrical systems. This makes it easier for the airflow and humidity in the operating room to be maintained in accordance with hospital standards.


 The Flying Eye Hospital parked on the LAX ramp next to Donald Trump’s 757 and Mark Cuban’s Gulfstream

This summer, following the MD-10 unveiling at LAX, the FEH traveled to five additional US cities to showcase its capability. They included: New York, Washington D.C., Memphis, Sacramento and Dallas. In early September, the new FEH will fly to Asia on its inaugural medical trip to Shenyang, China.


 The Omega teddy bear provided to every young Orbis patient

The Orbis MD-10 Flying Eye Hospital, like its predecessor aircraft, is a very unique and very special airplane. Over the years millions of lives have been transformed by what takes place inside this aircraft. It is here that miracles happen on a regular basis.

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