April 30, 2020

The California Disaster Airlift Response Team (CalDART) and San Diego CalDART are using general aviation aircraft to assist in the COVID-19 response.

“Our mission is to stand ready to help the people of California when assistance is needed,” said Paul Marshall, CalDART’s president.

CalDART usually airlifts supplies and people during earthquakes, mudslides and other events that degrade surface transportation availability, but Marshall explained that since the U.S. has never before seen a situation in which all states are in a declared state of emergency at the same time, the group looked for ways to use its capabilities to fight the pandemic.

In CalDART’s first initiative with Operation Medical Shield, a partnership supporting San Diego hospitals and medical personnel fighting COVID-19, the groups gathered and distributed personnel protective equipment for medical personnel.

Now CalDART, San Diego CalDART and local Makerspace manufacturers are partnering as Operation Medical Shield to make emergency-use ventilators available for free. The manufacturers are using a public-domain ventilator design, the Apollo BVM Emergency Use Ventilator, developed by MIT and refined by Rice University.

The ventilator uses standard bag valve masks typically used by emergency medical personnel and costs approximately $500 to build. The first production unit has been put through its paces in a San Diego hospital, while the effort is quickly scaling up beyond San Diego to include the whole state and possibly other Western states.

According to San Diego CalDART’s Ron Lovick, several organizations – the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Navy’s hospital ship Mercy – have all expressed interest in obtaining these emergency-use ventilators, which are only utilized when standard ventilators are not available.

Operation Medical Shield is currently flying out of Southern California’s McClellan-Palomar Airport and can transport equipment throughout the Western states. The operation has already made its first flight to expedite parts from a subcontractor to the primary manufacturing location in San Diego.

The organizations plan to build and distribute 50 ventilators in the coming weeks, subject to the availability of donations to fund the effort.

CalDART also recently shared its recommendations to volunteer airlift operations conducting flights during the COVID-19 crisis by publishing COVID-19 Effects on Volunteer Pilot Organizations (PDF).