Thomas Kim, 16, of McLean, Virginia, a junior at Landon School, has piloted more than 20 flights to deliver over 70,000 personal protective equipment (PPE) items and ventilator supplies to rural hospitals in four states since the COVID-19 pandemic began. After his school shut down, “one of the only things I had left was my flight training,” said TJ. He brainstormed with his father about ways he could use his flight training to help fight COVID-19, and came up with “Operation SOS” (“Supplies Over the Skies”), a series of flight missions to get critical PPE to undersupplied hospitals in remote areas.
With help from his dad, TJ contacts hospitals to assess their needs, then gathers PPE and ventilator supplies in the D.C. area, makes his flight plans, loads boxes into an airplane and flies to places that have included the top of a mountain and one of the shortest runways in Virginia. Each SOS payload now averages more than 4,500 PPE items such as gloves, head and shoe covers, goggles and face shields, isolation gowns, surgical masks, hand sanitizers, disinfectant wipes and ventilator parts and supplies. So far, they’ve been delivered to approximately 20 critical-access, rural and community hospitals in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia. TJ also has recorded public service podcasts about his project for the Federal Aviation Administration and the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association. “I am committed to doing all I can to help front-line hospital workers continue the great work they are doing to fight the spread of the coronavirus,” said TJ.