Pilots, auto firm deliver face shields for health workers

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Waterford Township — A volunteer effort involving a seaplane flight school owner, Detroit-area pilots and an Indiana auto parts supplier is resulting in 12,000 face shields being distributed to Michigan hospitals this weekend.

After hearing about a shortage of personal protection equipment among hospitals and first responders dealing with the COVID-19 virus, Cran Jones reached out to Mursix Corp., a parts-stamping plant in Yorktown, Indiana, and asked if they could switch production from car parts to plastic medical shields.

“I was thinking what could I do with my company and ties to the auto industry,” said Jones, an auto supply representative who is also owner-operator of the Michigan Seaplane flight school in Waterford Township.

“We made a prototype on March 23 and sent a photograph to an Oakland County hospital,” he said. “They said, ‘how many and how fast?’”

Volunteer pilot Curt Martin unloads boxes after returning from a round trip flight to Muncie, Indiana to pick up medical face shields for Michigan health care workers at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, Michigan on April 3, 2020.

Without stopping to compute volume, Jones put his focus on the fastest way to get the shields back to Michigan. He figured by air, he could cut an all-day round-trip by truck to a couple of hours. And while he loves seaplanes, they weren’t appropriate for the trip nor the freight.

Members of the area aviation community responded, volunteering their time and their aircraft.

“I had several (two-seater aircraft owners) lined up who cleared out the rear of their aircraft to make room for the boxes,” he said.

Oakland County Executive David Coulter went out Friday to Oakland International Airport to express his gratitude to local pilots who planned fly the shields to Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti for ground distribution to area facilities.

“This is the type of spirit we need now as we try to deal with the virus,” said Coulter. “It’s inspiring. An auto supplier. A seaplane operator and local pilots all donating their time and their planes to help keep medical professionals safe.”

Jones said he has had to turn down pilots who want to be part of the program.

Pilots Josh Fenwick, left, and Matthew Pillsbury do their pre-flight check.

“They can only make so many shields a day but we will continue to pick them up and bring them here as long as we can get the materials to make them,” he said.

Coulter said it's possible that some area business might be a good fit to manufacture the face shields in Oakland County.

“We just approved a $3 million small business stabilization program, which has $700,000 set aside to repurpose businesses,” he said. “We have received some calls from people who are eager to help and make the shields right here.”

 Jones said the outpouring of support from local “jet jockeys” has been amazing.

“I’ve got buddies, calling me and saying, ‘Cran, if you need a plane, let us know, we’re lined up and ready to go,’” Jones said.

Coulter stressed the plastic face shields, to be used by front line medical professionals along with the hard N95 face masks, are different than the soft cloth masks the public is now being encouraged to wear by the federal Centers for Disease Control.

“The soft masks aren’t purposed for protecting you as much as they are for protecting others from you in case you have the virus but appear healthy," Coulter said.

“We know people can function and feel OK but still be spreading the virus to others,” Coulter said. “So I would encourage everyone to look around for a soft mask to wear, even a bandana, to help stop the spread of the virus.

"With that and practicing safe distancing, staying at home and good hygiene, such as frequent hand-washing, we can beat this together.”


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