The controversial charity setting up hospital tents in NYC uses a 51-year-old plane to transport COVID-19 supplies. Take a closer look at its DC-8.

tpallini@businessinsider.com (Thomas Pallini)
·8 min read
Samaritan's Purse DC-8
A Samaritan's Purse Douglas DC-8.

Samaritan's Purse

  • Christian evangelical charity Samaritan's Purse operates a fleet of over 20 aircraft for humanitarian aid, the flagship of which is a rare Douglas DC-8.

  • The 51-year-old aircraft began life for Finnair as a combination jet flying passengers and freight. 

  • While most aircraft of the DC-8's age would have been retired long ago, Samaritan's Purse has now deployed the aircraft on COVID-19 missions. 

  • The charity has recently come under fire due to its requirement to have employees sign a "Statement of Faith" that criticizes homosexuality and gay marriage. 

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The plummeting demand for travel due to the novel coronavirus has allowed airlines and aircraft operators to advance the retirement of older aircraft, leaning out their fleets with modern equipment that's less of an economic burden.

One 51-year-old aircraft, however, is still going strong despite its younger colleagues disappearing from the skies. Its operator is an evangelical charity, Samaritan's Purse.

The international relief charity operates a fleet of over 20 aircraft positioned around the world to quickly reach even the most remote locations in need of humanitarian assistance. 

The organization is not without controversy. Following the construction of the Central Park field hospital, multiple groups spoke out against the evangelical charity for its requirement to have employees and volunteers sign a "Statement of Faith," which disavowed homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

The flagship of the nonprofit's fleet is a Douglas DC-8 aircraft built in the late 1960s. It's a workhorse from a defunct manufacturer that's long since been retired by the world's airlines. For the charity, however, the Greensboro, North Carolina-based DC-8 frequently stretches its legs flying humanitarian aid around the world.

The dual freighter and passenger jet, known as a "combi," has now taken to the skies to assist in the COVID-19 airlift transporting supplies and aid. One of its first mission during the pandemic, bringing an emergency field hospital to Italy.

See how this DC-8 still gets the job done even at 51 years of age. 

An all-American aircraft, the DC-8 was built by Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach, California at the very beginning of the jet age in the 1950s.

Douglas DC-8
A Douglas DC-8 aircraft.

Source: Boeing

The four-engine jet offered long-range jet service and was widely used by American carriers including Pan American World Airways, United Airlines...

Pan Am Douglas DC-8
A Pan American Douglas DC-8 aircraft.

Source: Boeing

And Delta Air Lines.

Delta Air Lines DC-8
A Delta Air Lines Douglas DC-8 aircraft.

Source: Boeing

The DC-8 currently in use with Samaritan's Purse first flew with Finnair in 1969 then had subsequent stints with the French Air Force and Air Transport International, a US cargo airline.

Douglas DC 8
A Douglas DC-8 aircraft.

Source: Planespotters.net

Arriving at Samaritan's Purse in 2015, the now-51-year-old DC-8 serves as the flagship of the charity's fleet of more than 20 aircraft.

Samaritan's Purse DC-8
A Samaritan's Purse Douglas DC-8 aircraft.

Samaritan's Purse

Source: Planespotters.net

The jet flies both cargo and passengers, known as a combi aircraft with freight being loaded in the front...

Samaritan's Purse DC-8
A Samaritan's Purse Douglas DC-8 aircraft.

Samaritan's Purse

Source: Samaritan's Purse

And up to 32 passengers in the back. Finnair had used the DC-8 on its first transatlantic route between Helsinki and Amsterdam, taking advantage of the combi to earn additional cargo revenue on the trip.

Samaritan's Purse DC-8
A Samaritan's Purse Douglas DC-8 aircraft.

Samaritan's Purse

Pallets are loaded in the cargo section on the main level, which takes up a majority of the airframe, while smaller boxes and items are loaded in the smaller belly cargo hold.

Samaritan's Purse DC-8
A Samaritan's Purse Douglas DC-8 aircraft.

Samaritan's Purse

Combi aircraft are increasingly rare, with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines remaining one of a handful of airlines still operating such aircraft with a Boeing 747 combi. The fleet was retired from passenger service in March and the Dutch flag carrier shifted to small twin-engine aircraft.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Boeing 747
A KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Boeing 747-400M Combi.

Read More: Iconic planes are disappearing from the sky earlier than planned as coronavirus wreaks airline havoc not seen since 9/11

Samaritan's Purse began flying COVID-19 missions in March when Italy became the first European country to fall prey to the virus.

Samaritan's Purse DC-8
A Samaritan's Purse Douglas DC-8 aircraft.

Samaritan's Purse

Source: Samaritan's Purse

The DC-8 undertook its first European COVID-19 mission in mid-March, making its first trip to Verona in Northern Italy on March 17.

Samaritan's Purse DC-8
A Samaritan's Purse Douglas DC-8 aircraft.

Samaritan's Purse

Source: Samaritan's Purse and FlightAware

Large pallets of medical supplies were loaded on to the aircraft for the journey as the charity would be setting up an emergency field hospital in the region.

Samaritan's Purse DC-8
Cargo being loaded on to a Samaritan's Purse Douglas DC-8 aircraft.

Samaritan's Purse

These grey-tents will be the structures that house the field hospital.

Samaritan's Purse DC-8
Cargo being loaded on to a Samaritan's Purse Douglas DC-8 aircraft.

Samaritan's Purse

They can be easily loaded into the DC-8's main cargo hold via a standard freight loader on hand at most large airports.

Samaritan's Purse DC-8
Cargo being loaded on to a Samaritan's Purse Douglas DC-8 aircraft.

Samaritan's Purse

Here's a look inside one of them in Cremona, Italy near Milan after being constructed by the charity's support staff.

Samaritan's Purse DC-8
A Samaritan's Purse emergency field hospital.

Samaritan's Purse

The mobile field hospitals can house 68-beds and include a respiratory care unit and intensive care unit.

Samaritan's Purse DC-8
A Samaritan's Purse emergency field hospital.

Samaritan's Purse

New York City received similar field hospital setups in Central Park built by the charity in conjunction with the Mount Sinai Hospital System. Those, however, were trucked in from North Carolina.

Samaritan's Purse DC-8
A Samaritan's Purse emergency field hospital.

Samaritan's Purse

Read More: What it's like inside the Central Park field hospital in New York City: 'Our country is in a war'

Italy had just over 2,500 deaths when the field hospitals were airlifted across the Atlantic, intended to relieve pressure on overworked hospitals. That number has since risen to over 20,000 despite a nationwide lockdown.

Samaritan's Purse DC-8
Cargo being loaded on to a Samaritan's Purse Douglas DC-8 aircraft.

Samaritan's Purse

Source: Samaritan's Purse

The jet ultimately made two trips back-to-back trips to Italy from its base in Greensboro, North Carolina. One on March 17 and the next on March 21.

Samaritan's Purse DC-8
Cargo being loaded on to a Samaritan's Purse Douglas DC-8 aircraft.

Samaritan's Purse

Source: FlightAware - March 17 and March 21

Field hospital setups are common cargo for the DC-8, reserved for severe situations that require additional medical infrastructure.

Samaritan's Purse DC-8
Cargo being loaded on to a Samaritan's Purse Douglas DC-8 aircraft.

Samaritan's Purse

The DC-8 is capable of carrying around 84,000 pounds of cargo both in the primary cargo hold...

Samaritan's Purse DC-8
Cargo being loaded on to a Samaritan's Purse Douglas DC-8 aircraft.

Samaritan's Purse

Source: Samaritan's Purse

And belly-hold underneath the main cabin.

Samaritan's Purse DC-8
Cargo being loaded on to a Samaritan's Purse Douglas DC-8 aircraft.

Samaritan's Purse

After the Italy missions, the DC-8 was tasked with flying a supply mission to Alaska and delivered supplies including hospital beds and personal protective equipment at the behest of the state's governor.

Douglas DC-8
Cargo being unloaded from a Samaritan's Purse Douglas DC-8 aircraft.

Source: Samaritan's Purse and FlightAware

Despite its old age, the jet allows Samaritan's Purse to get directly to the places that need assistance. Other missions the DC-8 has embarked on include humanitarian aid trips to Iraq, Mozambique, Ecuador, and the Bahamas.

Samaritan's Purse DC-8
A Samaritan's Purse Douglas DC-8 aircraft.

Samaritan's Purse

Source: Samaritan's Purse

It's just one of 23 aircraft in the Samaritan's Purse fleet. Other unique birds include this World War II-era Douglas DC-3 used to access remote regions inaccessible for the DC-8.

Samaritan's Purse DC-8
Cargo being loaded on to a Samaritan's Purse Douglas DC-3 aircraft.

Samaritan's Purse

Samaritan's Purse is a controversial organization. It drew criticism after it began constructing tents in Central Park for requiring employees and volunteers to sign a "Statement of Faith."

central park coronavirus
Construction of a field hospital in Central Park.

Read More: What it's like inside the Central Park field hospital in New York City: 'Our country is in a war'

Source: Samaritan's Purse

The statement includes bible verses that guide the charity's work; however, it also includes a position on homosexuality and gay marriage. "We believe God's plan for human sexuality is to be expressed only within the context of marriage, that God created man and woman as unique biological persons made to complete each other," states the document. "For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one genetic male and one genetic female."

Franklin Graham
Franklin Graham and Samaritan's Purse workers.

Source: Samaritan's Purse

In response, the charity's president Franklin Graham stood by the Statement of Faith but said he doesn't believe this is the right time for the debate.

Franklim Graham Samaritan's Purse
Franklin Graham at a Samaritan's Purse treatment center.

Source: Samaritan's Purse

Read the original article on Business Insider