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JAMES QUIGG, DAILY PRESS
GRAND TOUR: Johan Claasen, left, CEO of Pacific Aerospace, offers a tour of the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital to Rep. Paul Cook and Victorville Mayor Jim Cox on Wednesday. The current flying hospital will soon be retired as Pacific Aerospace prepares another jet for ORBIS.

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Flying Eye Hospital lands in Victorville

Flying medical facility getting new wings

VICTORVILLE • After traveling all over the world for the past 20 years, ORBIS International's Flying Eye Hospital sat outside a hangar at Southern California Logistics Airport, while a Victorville aerospace company prepares to assemble its $62 million successor in January.

Officials with the city of Victorville, Congressman-elect Paul Cook and a variety of representatives associated with the aircraft were given a taste of what is to come by touring the old DC-10 aircraft at Pacific Aerospace Resources and Technologies on Wednesday afternoon.

“This is an exciting day for us, and we’re looking forward to getting the new flying hospital in the air for ORBIS,” said Thad Hoffmaster, president/CFO for the SCLA-based company.

The flying hospital, which first took flight in 1982, is the world’s only airborne ophthalmic training facility, which brings ophthalmic training to communities throughout the world. A volunteer staff provides hands-on training to local eye care professionals and conveys the latest medical knowledge to treat patients and restore sight.

The first hospital, a DC-8 donated by United Airlines, was put out to pasture in the mid-’90s as aircraft parts became more difficult and expensive to obtain. Now ORBIS is getting ready to retire the second plane as the third-generation flying hospital prepares to take flight.

“We are currently utilizing roughly 20 to 30 people per day on the aircraft, and this will increase as the hospital portion arrives and final installation of the aircraft commences,” Hoffmaster said. “It’s an amazing project and we’re glad to be a part of this.”

Jack McHale, director of aviation affairs with the nonprofit ORBIS, told the group that by fabricating the new flying hospital out of large containers, which would be inserted into the MD-10, the price of the hospital will only be $12 million and that it will meet all Federal Aviation Administration requirements.

“The nine-module hospital portion is being built in Vermont, the front end is being built by SIE Engineering, with installation of the containers done in Victorville,” McHale said. “It’s a tremendous effort in partnership, which is garnering a lot of attention from the medical and aviation communities.”

When Pacific Aerospace begins working on the hightech teaching hospital — which will include an optical surgical simulator, 19 cameras, 14 monitors, classroom, observation area and operating room — Victorville will be put on aviation and medical maps, according McHale.

FedEx, one of ORBIS’ corporate sponsors, donated the aircraft, which will include the hospital section that will have the capability of being removed from the aircraft for easy maintenance, or replacement.

“This is the ideal marriage of aviation and medical technology, and I’m getting calls every day about this project,” McHale said. “We’ve had Mother Theresa, Fidel Castro, the Bushes and Bill Clinton tour our plane, so this third-generation ORBIS hospital should continue to be an attention-getter in many countries.”

As the hospital with wings takes flight for Panama in the summer of 2013, Hoffmaster said the former air hospital will be donated to a museum in Oregon.

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