The “Clinic Effect,” Hospitals bring interesting aircraft to Cleveland Hopkins – OPShots.net

(Chuck Slusarczyk Jr. – OPShots.net) There are many “superstar” spotting airports around the world.  Places such as  Miami, Florida (MIA), Los Angeles, California (LAX), Saint Maarten, (SXM), and Amsterdam (AMS) come to mind, but you will probably never see Cleveland Hopkins International airport (CLE), on any serious spotter’s wish list. Among the superstars of the aviation spotting world, CLE doesn’t rank highly, if it ranks at all.  But for those of us who live here it remains our life’s blood and primary source for spotting opportunities.  Furthermore, in the post-9/11 era, one of the nation’s best airport observation decks located within an already secure location was closed by the TSA due to “security reasons,” forever cutting off one of the most beloved and long running Hopkins institutions.

The sad irony is the airport formerly known as Cleveland Municipal Airport, had been a hotbed for aviation activity of all sorts since its inception 86 years ago.  Cleveland was where aviation happened…it was the site of the old National Air Races, a hugely popular annual event where the most modern aircraft of the era would fly over a set course in a quest for aviation glory.  This event played host to all the aviation dignitaries of the time,  pioneers such as Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Jimmy Doolittle, Cook Cleland and more.  If it happened in the air, it happened at Cleveland.

It was also the site of the world’s first air traffic control tower, airport lighting system, as well as the home of NASA’s Lewis (now, Glenn) Research Center, who’s contributions to aviation and space exploration are too numerous to mention.

It is against this illustrious background that those of us who live here and rely on the airport to satisfy our need for aviation excitement, have a dilemma.  In spite of its noble beginnings, Cleveland’s main airport has become a ghost-town of sorts, at least among those of us who crave something out of the ordinary.

Enter the “Clinic Effect”…

Fortunately, Cleveland is home to some of the world’s most renown health care facilities, among them: The Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals Case Medical Center (at CWRU), and MetroHealth Medical Center, a level-one trauma facility that also specializes in burns. These institutions, particularly the Cleveland Clinic which is well known for its heart-care, often attract foreign dignitaries and their families to utilize the high quality of services available here. A high percentage of these dignitaries come from Middle-Eastern countries, and these wealthy families or governments often thrill Cleveland spotters with a variety of wide-bodied or biz-jet sized visitors.

Other health-care visitors to Cleveland include numerous “life-flight,” or “medical flight” aircraft that visit while transporting everything from patients to vital organs. Yet, for all the good news that usually comes out of these visits, there are times when things don’t go so well.  Two events in recent years provide a snapshot into the worldwide drama of these famed institutions.

Bringing Azerbaijan president Heidar Aliyev to Cleveland the day before, this 757 sits on the old Air Services ramp back on August 7. 2003, a parking spot it would keep until after December when the president passed away at the Cleveland Clinic. Photo: Chuck Slusarczyk Jr. – OPShots.net

On August 6, 2003, Azerbaijan president Heidar Aliyev was brought to the Cleveland Clinic for treatment of congestive heart failure and kidney problems.  For several months, Clinic doctors did all they could, but he passed away on December 12, 2003.  During the time he was in the hospital, a number of visitors came to Cleveland to pay their respects.
A delegation from the Russian Ministry for Civil Aid and Protection (MCHs Rossii) came via IL-62M, a very rare, if not one of a kind visitor to Hopkins.  Sadly, the same 757 aircraft that brought him to Cleveland would also take him home in the end.

A delegation of Russian assistance came to Cleveland on this extremely rare example of an IL-62M in Cleveland. Photo: Chuck Slusarczyk Jr. – OPShots.net

This TAME Ecuador E-170 was sent to Cleveland by the Ecuadorian government to retrieve the body of national football (soccer) star Alberto Spencer. Photo: Chuck Slusarczyk Jr. – OPShots.net

In another incident of international significance, the great Ecuadorian and Uruguayan soccer star Alberto Spencer came to the Cleveland Clinic for treatment of a heart ailment that had plagued him since the late 70′s, he ultimately succumbed to its effects on November 3, 2006.  His passing prompted an almost unheard of event when the Ecuadorian Air Force allowed a TAME Embraer E-170 to fly outside of its home range to retrieve the body and take him home for a hero’s burial.  This may be the one and only time a TAME E-170 was ever seen outside of its normal network, and certainly the only visit of a TAME E-170 to Cleveland.
Not all visits are bad ones, many are solely for the benefits of a good check-up, while others are much more mysterious, and details may never be known.  Even so, Cleveland spotters know they have our famed medical institutions to thank for our infrequent, yet very welcome visitors from around the world!  Here is a small selection of some of the medical aircraft that have visited Cleveland over the last few decades.  A search for the keyword “clinic” on the gallery search page will reveal many more such interesting visitors:

A Qatar Amiri Flight A330 visited in May 2009. Photo: Angelo Ballachino – OPShots.net

A UAE 747-400 departs Cleveland after another visit. Photo: George Mihalek – OPShots.net

This super-727 of the Bahrain Amiri flight was a visitor in 1999. Photo: Chuck Slusarczyk Jr. – OPShots.

A State of Kuwait Gulfstream V medevac aircraft arrives in Cleveland in 2005. Photo: Chuck Slusarczyk Jr. – OPShots.net

A United Arab Emirates (Dubai Air Wing) 737-800BBJ touches down in Cleveland in July, 2010. Photo: George Mihalek – OPShots.net

A United Arab Emirates 747SP-31 departs Cleveland after another clinic visit in 2005. Photo: Chuck Slusarczyk Jr. – OPShots.net

Saudi TriStar HZ-HM5 at Cleveland, circa 1991. Photo: Jon Carpenter Collection – OPShots.net

A 707-368C of the Saudi Royal Flight on a visit during the early 1990’s. Photo: Jon Carpenter – OPShots.net

This Saudi 747SP visited in July 2009. Photo: Mark Plumley – OPShots.net

About the author

Chuck Slusarczyk Jr.

I started OPShots in June 2006 as a place to share and display aviation photos without the often restrictive policies of other aviation websites. I want to share my love of aviation with fellow aviation geeks and provide a spotlight on Cleveland Hopkins International airport in the process.

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