This trip report covers a very interesting visit I recently had to a unique airfcraft: the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital.
First, a bit of background: Orbis International is a non-profit organization that seeks to restore and preserve sight for those in the developing world who cannot obtain quality eye care. They go about this aim in two ways: first, they perform ophthalmic surgery on those in need in the local populace in areas that they visit; secondly, they hold instructional sessions with local health care professionals in these areas, so that the procedures being performed can continue to be performed after Orbis personnel leave an area.
Orbis DC-10 at Fedex Facility
Orbis was conducting a 'goodwill' tour of latter half of 2011 in Canada, with (presumably) the objective of increasing awareness and to fund-raise. One of the stops on the tour was Ottawa, Canada -- where I live. A DC-10 at the Ottawa airport is an extremely rare thing, and, being an airplane buff and all, I was quite interested in taking the tour (and Orbis' cause was a worthwhile reason, too).
Big Mad Dog
The plane was made available for public tours on November 22, 2011. Myself and friend Jody decided to substitute our working weekday's lunchtime to take the 12:30pm tour. We presented ourselves at the FedEx facility of the Ottawa Airport and waited in a short line to get our security passes, and to make a modest donation. In case you are wondering why the Orbis DC-10 is parked at the FedEx facility, the reason is that FedEx is a major sponsor of Orbis, and provides extensive aircraft support - including pilots, maintainence, and equipment.
Orbis Goodwill Tour
Soon we were escorted through a FedEx loading garage and onto the ramp, where the big, white DC-10 awaited us. A couple of airstairs were positioned up to the left side of the plane, and we entered via the foward one.
The Orbis DC-10
We had entered into the front section of the fuselage. We were greeted to what looked like, at first glance, a section of relatively normal airline passenger-cabin. All of the panels and seats seemed straight out of an original-issue 70s-styled DC-10 economy interior - but with a much greater seat pitch. All in all, it would be a reasonably comfortable place to stay if you were flying somewhere on the Flying Eye Hospital.
However, the main purpose of this area is to serve as the classroom for the hospital. At the front of this cabin section stands a large flat-screen display. At the time we arrived, it was showing rather detailed closeup video of an ophthalmic medical procedure. This flat-screen display can show recorded video like this one, of course. However, it can also be used to show surgeries live, as they are being performed in the medical areas in the back of the plane. Local medical professionals can be in this classroom along with an instructor and follow along with procedures, without the need to attempt to crowd around the actual surgery.
Jody enjoys the seat pitch
Next, we continued forward into the nose of the aircraft. I was looking forward to seeing the the old-style cockpit of this old airplane. There it was, in all of its early 70s glory, and in extremely clean condition. Unlike virtually all modern aircraft, this old DC-10 had a three-person cockpit that required a flight engineer. As a result, there was a full flight engineer's position behind the copilot's seat.
There was little in the way of multi-function-displays and LCD flat panel screens in the cockpit -- just many grids and rows of analog gauges.
Orbis DC-10 Engineer Station
The cockpit was 'powered-up', which was nice, allowing me to get pictures that included functioning gauges, displays and lights.
The Captain's Chair
Orbis DC-10 Cockpit Pedestal
Before I finish talking about the cockpit of the plane, I'll mention one more thing: this was/is a fairly historic and noteworthy DC-10: it was the second frame off the production line in 1970, and was involved in the test program for the DC-10. Not at all surprisingly, it is currently the oldest DC-10 still flying. This plane has flown for many different operators before being bought by Orbis in 1992 and converted for use as a hospital.
With the highlight of the airplane-buff part of the tour over, we headed back down the cabin, passing back through the classroom area and stopping to have a look inside a small and densely-packed L-shaped room that was stuffed with all sorts of audio/video equipment.
Orbis DC-10 Audio-Visual Room
At first I couldn't understand what the need for all this [A / V equipment] was, but that was before I had realized that one of the primary missions Orbis has is to instruct and train. And, on the fairly large scale upon which Orbis operates -- aiming to teach hundreds of professionals at a time -- there is a necessity to be able to train them en masse and to distribute training materials to them, again en masse.
The audio-visual room, in conjunction with many closed-circuit cameras, microphones, and video monitors, allow Orbis to conduct live surgery training sessions, produce training videos and other multimedia material, perform linkups and broadcasts in the local area in which they are stationed.
I suppose the need for a full-featured audio-visual room is not so far-fetched after all.
Orbis DC-10 Access Hallway
After viewing the audio-visual room, we walked over to the left side of the aircraft and began walking down a long, narrow corridor. One wall of this corridor was the outer fuselage of the aircraft - curved and with windows, and the other was a long vertical wall backing onto the medical facilities themselves. It was slightly interesting and unusual, since rarely in an airplane do you have a hallway that runs against the curved fuselage.
The first room we came to along the hallway was the laser treatment room. Here, all manner of laser treatment gear is arranged on several desks and tables, along with monitors and shelves on the wall. Two Orbis staff were conducting a talk in the room, including Leo de Kryger - a Biomedical Engineer.
Based on what was said and what I read, I can't quite know for sure whether or not actual laser eye treatments are done in this room, or whether or not this was a room in which solely training was done.
Orbis DC-10 Laser Treatment Room
Eye Chart, Laser Treatment Room
Next, it was back into the access hallway, where we walked a short ways aft to the open doors of a small closet. Here, Leo de Kryger stood in front of the contents of the closet, which consisted of an array of tanks, pipes, and valves. This, he informed us, was the onboard medical oxygen generation equipment. Since Orbis flies to many locations where there may not be pure oxygen available for medical procedures, and since the transportation of large quantities of heavy oxygen tanks is not practical, the plane has its own generation facility. Interesting.
Leo explains O2 generation