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Pilot's idea helps hospitals fight coronavirus

Michigan pilots distribute medical face shields

Editor's note: This article was updated March 30 with additional information.

After learning that hospitals were critically low on personal protection from the coronavirus, Michigan Seaplane flight school owner Cran Jones came up with a plan to prototype, manufacture, and deliver clear face shields to front-line medical professionals.

Michigan Seaplane flight school instructors Nick Hall and Mike Mato stack boxes of medical face shields fabricated by an Indiana auto parts manufacturer before flying them to a Michigan hospital in a Cessna 206. Flight school owner Cran Jones organized the effort through his contacts in the automobile parts supplier community. Photo courtesy of Nick Hall and Mike Mato.

“We were thinking, ‘What could we do with Michigan Seaplane, and my ties to the automobile industry, as face masks are running out?’” during the coronavirus pandemic, Jones said.

He added that it was frustrating to see on the news that medical personnel were scrambling for personal protective equipment, and it prompted him to use general aviation to help in any way that he could.

The Pontiac, Michigan-based seaplane pilot reached out to one of his Indiana automotive parts suppliers and asked if production could switch from car parts to plastic medical shields. Staff at the parts-stamping specialist Mursix Corp. in Yorktown stepped up, and “literally cobbled one together” in their spare time, Jones said.

Michigan Seaplane flight school owner Cran Jones formed a plan with fellow pilots to prototype, manufacture, and deliver protective gear to front-line medical professionals. Photo courtesy of Nick Hall.

“We made a prototype on Sunday [March 23] and sent the photo to an Oakland County, Michigan, hospital later that day,” Jones explained. “They said, ‘How many, and how soon can you get them [to us]?”

The outpouring of support from Detroit’s automobile industry extended to the GA community after Jones lamented about the limited payload capabilities of his Piper Super Cruiser and Murphy Rebel floatplanes. “We just love seaplanes, but for this mission, the seaplanes just weren’t enough.”

The ferry flight missions were born when seaplane instructors Nick Hall and Mike Mato secured a Cessna 206 with more payload capability.

Mursix asked that the pilots arrive as late as they could the afternoon of March 24 to allow the company to get as many shields as possible ready for the flight from Indiana to Michigan.

A face shield prototype is demonstrated after Michigan Seaplane owner Cran Jones formed a plan to manufacture and deliver much-needed clear face shields to front-line medical professionals. Photo courtesy of Cran Jones.

Jones said the group made plans to fly the Cessna 206 from Michigan’s Oakland Southwest Airport in New Hudson to Indiana’s Delaware County Regional Airport in Muncie to pick up the first batch of 250 medical face shields, and then return.

After they landed in Michigan with the first load, they delivered their cargo by ground to the outskirts of Detroit by 7 p.m., Jones said.

“It’s frustrating to me that we can’t make enough,” Jones said after the first batch was delivered. “We can crank out a couple thousand a day if we can get the material in for the straps, the foam, and the vinyl shield.”

“We’re trying to help these front-line medical workers out, and at the end of the day, we’re trying to pull it off a little at [a] time” to help keep medical workers safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Indiana company ramped up production throughout the week which allowed the pilots to ferry 6,000 protective face shields by March 28. During a weekend run under cloudy skies, 20 boxes of medical face shields were loaded into the aircraft’s cabin. The pilots planned to continue the operation well into the future.

“It’s amazing,” Jones said of the outpouring of support he’s received from Michigan’s tight-knit GA community. “I’ve got buddies, who are GA guys and jet jockeys calling me and saying, ‘Cran, if you need a plane, let us know, we’re lined up and ready to go.’”

David Tulis
David Tulis
Senior Photographer
Senior Photographer David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot with single-engine land and sea ratings and a tailwheel endorsement. He is also a certificated remote pilot and co-host of the award-wining AOPA Hangar Talk podcast. David enjoys vintage aircraft ad photography.
Topics: COVID19, Seaplane, Public Benefit Flying

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