Explore the history of the flying eye hospital

For 40 years, the Flying Eye Hospital has been at the cutting edge of aviation, technology and change – bringing vital eye care to thousands of people worldwide.

Flying Eye Hospital plane taking off

This Is the Flying Eye Hospital’s Story...

Interview: Holly Peppe Former Orbis Director of External Affairs


United Airlines donated its oldest DC-8 aircraft to Orbis, which became the very first Flying Eye Hospital. The “Douglas DC-8” is an American four-engine plane that was in production until 1972. The DC-8’s design allowed for a large cargo hold, and some re-engined DC-8s are still in use as freighters today.


Actress and philanthropist, Dina Merrill, christened the Flying Eye Hospital before its first mission from Houston to Panama.


“There are few occasions in life when an idea takes off and leads to achievements beyond our wildest expectations: when a mission is driven by a vision so clear and compelling that it literally enables others to see it too. Orbis is one of these.”


The Flying Eye Hospital made international news, inspiring the world with the sight-saving work that takes place on board.


Introducing... the second-generation Flying Eye Hospital! This replacement DC-10 aircraft was twice the size of the original DC-8. The extra space in the DC-10 was needed to accommodate the expanding scope of the Flying Eye Hospitals operations. As technology progressed and made training doctors around the world even easier, our facilities were updated, too.


“We started before the internet. Now, I do a surgery and it’s broadcast in 73 countries around the world, people tune in to see how it’s done, and I can teach them like they’re sitting in the aircraft watching over my shoulder.”

The Flying Eye Hospital and the Flying Eye Hospital on a goodwill tour in 2017


FedEx donated an MD-10 plane and, with help from a number of our generous partners, equipped it with brand-new facilities. This third incarnation of the Flying Eye Hospital can fly nearly twice as far as its predecessor and requires only two pilots rather than three. Inside, you’ll find some of the world’s most advanced ophthalmic training equipment.

A mobile phone using the Cybersight telemedicine platform


When the coronavirus pandemic arrived in 2020, the Flying Eye Hospital stopped travelling. However we were able to use our telemedicine platform Cybersight to deliver virtual training to clinical teams around the world. We're continuing these virtual programmes whilst we plan for the resumption of in-person Flying Eye Hospital visits.

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