A nationwide shortage of medical supplies has spurred general aviation companies to pivot factory floors from producing aircraft to medical equipment to protect hospital workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, and breathing apparatus to help save the lives of COVID-19 patients.
Cirrus Aircraft, Textron Aviation, and Appareo are the latest GA companies switching from aviation production lines to personal protective equipment. Piper Aircraft and Tamarack Aerospace are also among the GA companies turning out protective gear to help patients and caregivers cope, and save lives.
Coming off a record year for GA aircraft deliveries, growth, and expansion, Cirrus shifted gears as the coronavirus pandemic spread through the United States. The single-engine aircraft maker partnered with three Duluth, Minnesota, manufacturing neighbors to cut and assemble clear plastic face shields for local hospital workers and is also helping design a filtered breathing mask, the Duluth News Tribune reported.
The newspaper wrote that the consortium is in the “final stages” of making powered air-purifying respirator hoods and also has plans to manufacture full-length bodysuits to protect workers against the disease.
Textron Aviation is also assisting the fight against the coronavirus by collaborating with Wichita State University to manufacture medical face shields from optically clear plastic film. The Kansas aircraft manufacturer known for its Beechcraft, Cessna, and Hawker GA aircraft, also has plans to make cloth face masks and fabric coverings for healthcare professionals.
Appareo, an avionics firm known for Stratus ADS-B traffic and weather receivers, pledged to manufacture 2,000 emergency ventilators for the state of North Dakota by the end of April. The electronic breathing devices are based on an open-source design spearheaded by the University of Minnesota and the Earle E. Bakken Medical Devices Center. It substitutes for a medical worker who would manually squeeze a ventilation bag so that the healthcare worker could focus on other needs, the company wrote in a news release.
“From the first phone call” on March 27, “it was only three days later that we had a functioning prototype,” said Appareo President and CEO David Batcheller, who complimented the engineering and manufacturing staff for logging “almost 1,000 hours, working late into the nights and over the weekend” to prototype. He said the company pursued the effort because “we wondered if there was more we could do to help our state and nation during this unprecedented time.”
Autonodyne, the sister company of avionics maker Avidyne Corp., announced April 7 that the Massachusetts firm is using its two 3D printers to crank out face shields and ventilator masks. Autonodyne was created to build avionics for unmanned aircraft and the emerging urban air mobility market, and is now working around the clock to produce protective gear for healthcare workers, CEO Steve Jacobson said in a news release.
Montreal-based flight simulator manufacturer CAE Inc. also created a ventilator prototype that it hopes to mass produce to help those with breathing problems combat effects of the coronavirus. Though CAE is known in the aviation world for its flight simulator technology, it also produces medical simulators to train doctors, and the company employs several medical professionals who participated in the breathing system’s design parameters.
The company assembled a team of a dozen specialists about two weeks ago to develop a “bridge” breathing system design after fielding calls from political leaders to help, chief technology officer Marc St-Hilaire told The Toronto Globe and Mail. “Our CEO has given the mandate to us, ‘Go full blast,'" St-Hilaire said. "We’re taking this as an order to action. We’re mobilizing the army.” The company intends to produce 10,000 ventilators in three months, the newspaper reported.
Winglet manufacturer Tamarack Aerospace Group is making reusable, 3D-printed face masks with replaceable filters for hospital staff tending to coronavirus patients. The filter material provides protection equivalent to N95 masks, said Jacob Klinginsmith, Tamarack president. The Sandpoint, Idaho, company’s design allows wearers to sanitize the plastic face mask themselves.
Piper Aircraft was an early adopter in the efforts to assist medical professionals when its Vero Beach, Florida, factory fashioned a clear plastic face shield for a local hospital affiliated with a worldwide health care system.
Virgin Orbit spaceship engineers in California also recently launched a humanitarian project to create a “bridge” ventilator for coronavirus patients. “The need for ventilators is a medical Dunkirk,” University of California Irvine surgeon Brian Wong told the college, referring to the World War II battle that culminated with a miraculous rescue of Allied troops from France. Wong, who is part of the Bridge Ventilator Consortium, said “It’s a once-in-a-generation call to arms that we all must respond to. Our designs are different. We’re building ‘bridge’ devices that can be easily made to serve as stopgaps when medical-grade ventilators are not in full supply."
On the commercial aviation side, Delta Flight Products, a Delta Air Lines subsidiary that creates commercial jet aircraft interiors, is working with the Georgia Institute of Technology to manufacture protective face shields for hospital workers. The initiative is part of the nonprofit Global Center for Medical Innovation that is providing a variety of assistance during the coronavirus pandemic. Rick Salanitri, the president of Delta Flight Products, said aircraft interior design employees were “rallying around this effort—it’s a meaningful way we can show our support for the health care workers working around the clock to protect us.” The first 6,000 protective shields will be used by medical professionals in New York and Atlanta.