April 14, 2020

As have so many in the general aviation community throughout the COVID-19 crisis, pilot and business owner Mark Merritt found a way he and others could help hospitals and medical personnel – and then he set to work to make it happen.

Merritt is chairman and CEO of Westech Seal, Inc. in Odessa, TX. When a lack of suitable personal protective equipment at area hospitals became evident, his company got to work producing plastic face shields and intubation chambers, which are the clear protective boxes used to shield medical personnel from a patient’s natural coughing response as they’re intubated.

“I worked with Texas Tech and the University of Texas of the Permian Basin about three to four weeks ago on the prototype face shields,” he explained. “Texas Tech said to ship them over once we were finished, but that would have added another three days, [whereas] Lubbock is just 45 minutes away in my Grumman Tiger. So I just did that.”

With businesses in Midland-Odessa and Lubbock stepping in to also assist with production of those medical items, Merritt then asked other area pilots to lend a hand through the West Texas Aviators page on Facebook, with the aim of ultimately delivering critically needed supplies anywhere they’re needed “west of Abilene, down to El Paso and north to Oklahoma,” he said.

“We’re trying to cover an enormous area,” Merritt continued, “but every county and town in West Texas has a small airport. And I figured lots of pilots were bored at home and looking for a reason to fly.” Nearly 100 pilots offered their services in response to Merritt’s post, and they were soon joined by volunteers from Angel Flight South Central.

“We have over 1,000 pilots ready to go,” he said, “and we’re ramping up significantly this week.”

Merritt emphasized that general aviation aircraft are invaluable for delivering these supplies, for the same reason he flies his Tiger to support his company. “We can reach all the little places we need to get to a lot easier with the airplane than anything else,” he said.