Monday, December 20, 2010

December 20th

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
Another year comes to an end, and so I begin this week by wishing you a vacation period free of idiots spoiling your day, and that your electricity supply may be clean and the water flow from your taps without cease – oh, and that your car might not give you issues, and that the roads upon which you drive should be free of potholes, rumble strips and goats crossing in front of you at the last moment.  OK, so that is too much to ask, but if you do not ask, you cannot receive!

2010 has been a busy year in the air in Ghana.  Of course, there have been the tail end stories about Ghana International, and the start up stories about the new Presidential Jet; there has even been time devoted to the beautiful yellow helicopters flying the oil rigs; from whence the oil has just started to trickle, for better, for worse, for the richer and, hopefully for the poorer, until death departs us. 

This year Ghana won two international awards for its work in flying young people as part of the celebrations of the one hundred years of women pilots, and saw two small planes, built in Ghana, fly around the country, as well as another successful, and safe, air show.

We have seen progress at Kotoka on the new fire station – it really looks good!  We have also seen an increase in the airline traffic – and with it, an incident in the parking bay, which got blown out of all proportion by certain sectors of the media.  Since then, changes in procedures have been made, but the safety implementation side is buried in fine print, whilst the headlines are always about negativity! 

If you have flown internationally this year, then, if you looked out of the window, you would have seen the ongoing sprawl of buildings that seems to be engulfing the green space around Accra, like a concrete version of an oil-slick! 

Yes, 2010 has been a busy year – in the air, and on the ground.  I am pleased to say, that from my perspective, it has been a positive year for light aviation – and raising of the awareness of it, and another safe year; long may they continue.

However, it has also been a year where indiscipline has propagated itself exponentially on the roads – and with it, safety has been compromised.  It is easy to put the blame in one place or another, but the blame is, in reality, wide spread.  I see the trucks trundling up and down the roads, their excess axle weight creating new ruts on the highways (especially the Tema – Akosombo highway); I see the potholes, reported six months ago, growing as if they are new crop, just waiting to harvest the axles of another vehicle; I see the mayhem in Accra, as congestion gets beyond a joke and a trip of a few kilometres is quicker riding on the back of an African Snail than in your Land Cruiser. 

I see lack of maintenance, lack of discipline and lack of desire to work, coupled with insistence that all should be perfect – an explosive combination, and one that will lead to disappointment.

If Aviation tried the same formula, it would have the corpses hung around its neck and be lambasted from every quarter – but on the roads, we blame only the drivers.  Now, do not get me wrong, the drivers are definitely to blame – but so is the road condition, the lack of road markings (or in some cases the wrong road markings), the lack of education, lack of vehicle maintenance, the lack of support for the police to actually have an effect on stopping people driving without lights, driving licences, etc., and more.

If aircraft tried to squeeze an extra lane or two on a runway, there would be public outcry – not at the pilots, but at the authorities who did not act to prevent it.  How come, the roads have this problem?  If planes are allowed to fly without proper maintenance the headlines are always aimed at ‘bad management’.  Why not when it is a motor vehicle? 

At the Minister of Transport’s meet the press last week, there was a poster available about the number of drivers without driving licences or proper understanding of road usage and the laws.  So, it is a known problem – no surprises there!  If a poster could fix it, it would be fixed. 

These problems are spoiling the efforts of others on their way to and from legitimate jobs each day; passengers in tro-tro’s are being subjected to risks of unacceptable levels – and for what purpose?  I can find no logical reason NOT to bring about change, no earthly sense in not imposing a nationwide impact programme immediately.  Again, if only ten percent of the road abuse and related issues were to occur in aviation, the public would not stop harassing the authorities until it was addressed.

So, it is clear that the problems are many-fold – but the ultimate problem comes from the apathy of the vast majority of the population to actually impose the change, support the change, and encourage the change.  It is coupled with a lack of maintenance of roads and vehicles – and lack of support from the authorities to those citizens who actually try to bring about change.

I know that when help has been offered to work on public roads by private corporations, they have been hampered by their District Assemblies, by other users of the roads (including Public educational establishments) and the signal is sent out ‘we like it as it is’.   As was said to me by one Doctor from the Agricultural unit of the University of Ghana ‘when we are ready to leave our poverty we will do so’.  How can a supposedly educated man, holding high office in a university, make such a statement?  Because he has a large dose of apathy and no interest in a common goal, and a better community for all to enjoy.

I hope that over the vacation period we can all find some solace from the indiscipline, non-community mindedness that is growing like a cancer on the roads, and corporately find the courage and the energy to bring about positive change, from the grass roots up, for a less harassed new year! 

So, as was sent to me as a greetings card for the Christmas period, I wish you all that ‘May those who spoil your day, have the fleas of a thousand camels infest their underwear – and may their arms be too short to scratch’… and I add to that ‘may the road users who care not for the rules, be blocked on a side road with no steering or propulsion methods, for many years to come’!

Get a rest, and get ready for the challenges of 2011, whatever they may be!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS – The Best Flying Experience in West Africa (   e-mail

Monday, December 13, 2010

December 13th

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
Completing the Expresso ‘All Over Ghana’ flight of Patricia Mawuli Nyekodzi; from Kpong to Kpong…

As soon as both aircraft were on the ground, we assessed the situation for the final leg on the ‘All Over Ghana’ flight, from Kpong to Accra and back.  This last leg was a symbolic one, and one that had required special permissions.  We stretched our legs on the well tended grass apron of Kpong Airfield, the busiest private airfield in Ghana.  The weather was looking much better than at dawn in the North. It looked good for a fine completion within time.

A telephone call was made to Kotoka, to establish a suitable time for us to pass through their airspace, and agree a route to the city, and out, that would not inconvenience other users of Ghana’s hub to the world.  One thing that the lighter aviation has to remember is that ‘Polite Pilots’ are welcomed, and it is important to work together with the aviation authorities – and extra-especially when you are in a slow aircraft, relatively speaking, using the same airspace and airport as the faster, bigger aircraft.  It is not a problem, and happens all over the world – but you have to stick to the rules, work with those in charge of the operations, and ensure great relations, before, during and after each movement!!

We waited patiently for the right time to restart our engines.  Excitedly, each Pilot-in-Command pressed the start button, and the reliable 80Hp Rotax engines, as expected, did their thing, without complaint.  

We climbed out past Krobo Mountain, and headed towards the western edge of Tema.  It would add a few kilometres, but keep us clear of the busy approach to KIA. Having been all around the country, where the traffic is light – or totally non-existent, as in many parts of the trip -  it was nice to back with lively radio calls and aircraft movements.

The new water line from Kpong to Tema-Accra remained almost parallel to our track, until we passed Asuatare junction; then we focused on the motorway - straight ahead.  Twin Rock Quarry’s familiar sentinels watched over us, as we droned onwards at one thousand feet above sea level, well below any other traffic that may be scheduled in or out of Accra.

Tema sprawls out far more than you would realise when you drive past this trade-essential port-town, with Ashaiman tumbling out of the more regimented ‘planned township’.  When seen from the air, it is easy to see the challenges of Ashaiman, and to understand the flood difficulties better. 

Crossing the motorway, at about its mid-point, the four kilometre tarmac runway of Kotoka Airport shines as a beacon, welcoming its many domestic and international visitors each day.  We could see the airliners waiting on the Apron, sitting below and in front of the Tower.  The Control-Tower acting like a hen-bird, protecting the many chicks that sit by her feet, waiting to fly, and calling home her fledglings out of the sky.

Kotoka has changed many times since my first landing there in 1994, and it really is one of the better airports on the continent.  There is constant change, always some improvement, maintenance or beautification taking place, and from the air it is obvious that our ‘Gateway to Africa’ is not pie-in-the-sky, but rather high-in-the-sky, and climbing! 

We received our clearance to join the circuit, and the two built-in-Ghana aircraft pushed forward on the throttles, needing to stay at the top end of the speed curve to get in, and out, as quickly as possible.  At one thousand feet above the motorway we rolled left and onto final for runway ‘two-one’.  Power comes back, and speed stays high, as we drop the noses and descend towards the impressively laid out facility.  At more than forty meters wide, the runway is wide enough for us to take off or land across it!!!  Deliberately, we enter into the ground effect with more speed than is safe to touch down with, and hold the aircraft in the cushion of air, waiting for speed to decay to a safe touchdown velocity.  At that point, the aircraft is allowed to gently sink and the noise of our tyres, going from zero to nearly eighty kilometres per hour, squeal as the leave a tiny amount of their material on the surface of the runway.  If you look at runways throughout the world, the touchdown area looks like a ‘multiple-skid-mark’ from where the airliners tyres do the same thing, but at much higher speeds and weights!

We added power, full-power, and pulled up steeply, anxious to clear the airspace.  We could hear another aircraft about to line up at the threshold of the runway we were occupying, but we couldn’t turn left until we are in the correct position.  A few seconds later we had both turned cross-wind,
Burma Camp Road
busily backed up with traffic below, the waves crashing their white horses onto the beach near La Palm Royale Hotel; the city has its own sights, and its own beauties.  We turned downwind to watch the departing traffic accelerate along the runway, well clear and safely managed by our Guardian Angles in the tower. 

We called out thanks and departed the circuit, tracking directly home to Kpong Field.  Once home, it was time for a low pass to celebrate our trip, and then we landed.  Amazingly, it was only a Chinese TV station that had decided to welcome back the team, but they did so in style.  The other stations had decided to wait in Accra, for our travelling by air may have been over, but there remained one last event to manage.

Aircraft were secured in their hangars are we climbed aboard our terrestrial vehicles, headed for the city, where a reception awaited.  During the flight we took nearly one thousand photos and a lot of video clips, covered nearly two thousand kilometres and clocked nearly eighteen hours of engine time.  Now, in the ninety minute drive to Accra, the laptop computer needed to put together a slide-show to thank the sponsors and to show the media just what had been accomplished.  It was completed within five minutes of arrival at the venue.  A trip without incident, filled with awe inspiring sights that has demonstrated that these built-in-Ghana aircraft, flown by trained-in-Ghana pilots can deliver the goods in a variety of roles, especially the goal-role of Humanitarian Aviation Logistics, such as flying doctors and nurses and general relief work.

This demonstration flight was only made possible by the sponsorship of Expresso, UT Bank, Business and Financial Times, Wire Weaving Industries, Atlantic Group and WAASPS, as well as the dedication and inspiration of Patricia Mawuli Nyekodzi who led the flight with Alpha Foxtrot, accompanied by me as reporter and photographer and Dr Patrick Ata with Martin Talbot, who crewed Alpha Charlie. A team effort.

I hope you have enjoyed this mini-series; there will be a book with photos and a DVD coming soon, if you want to read, see and hear more!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS – The Best Flying Experience in West Africa (   e-mail

Monday, December 6, 2010

December 6th

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
Continuing the Expresso ‘All Over Ghana’ flight of Patricia Mawuli Nyekodzi; from Tamale to Kpong…

The hotel in Tamale was absolutely splendid.  It seemed far too large for the received image of the city, yet was very fitting, well finished and the staff very welcoming.  We were all positively impressed with the potential and the efforts made in this oft mis-represented city.

Waking early the next morning, we set off across the dusty, flat, but well paved roads towards the airport.  Air Force personnel greeted us, and showed us where we could fuel-up the planes from our support vehicle.  Excitement was, again, high. Sadness was also dawning – this was the last day of the trip.

We watched a Beechcraft land in the morning sunlight, as we added some extra spray-on-grease to reduce the effects of the dry-heat and dust in the air.

The Harmattan air ‘sounds’ so different, enhanced by the acoustics of the large hangar and flat concrete apron, to make every word spoken, sound almost dull.  The Air Traffic Controller, from the previous evening, came onto the apron to say ‘goodbye’, giving us a thank you opportunity for all of his help. We packed our supply vehicle and boarded the aircraft. 

The Beechcraft, now heading back to Accra, taxied ahead of us, and we waited patiently for our turn to use the ample tarmac to set-off home…  The runway is big and we seemed to need far less than one percent of it to get airborne!  Climbing out in the sand tainted air we could immediately see the Northern Town signature buildings and villages – many round houses, perfectly kept, and magnificently ordered, looking like special crystals growing amidst the dusty haze.  Many of these ‘round-mud-home’ villages have a mosque proudly located at their epicentre, the mosque clearly cherished and cared for as much, if not more, than their own homes.

We ventured south, routing towards Buipe.  First we crossed the White Volta, wider than usual due to the heaviness of the rainy season.  Collateral damage was evident, but not as much as we had expected – probably due to the lower population density in such parts. 

The flat lands between the White and Black Volta are like a blank canvas – just waiting to be transformed into a splendid masterpiece by the painters of development.  This could make an outstanding country park – if only there was some way of accessing it, other than by air.

The Black Volta was crossed, with the ‘Buipe Bridge’ visible at about six kilometres to our right.  Here we saw the sad remains of a drowned village, others had been cut off by the rising water.  Tracks were submerged under the muddy gushes of water, having passed through the Bui Dam construction site, which we had flown over the day before.  These same waters would pass south, through the dam at Akosombo and pass our home-field on their way to Ada, and out to sea, a reminder that we are all connected, from North to South and East to West, a reminder that we are one people, one nation, all sharing one dream – that of survival, peace and sustainable development.

With the Black Volta over our shoulders, the landscape was homogenous – if you did not take in the detail below, it could have become monotonous!  However, the occasional home, road-less, track-less, inhabited by a small family, remote, isolated and living a subsistence, yet happy, lifestyle, provided abundant intrigue. 

In the distance, Kintampo littered the horizon.  Happily, we deviated from the straight line to Techiman to have a better look at the fascinating rock formations there.  This is another of Ghana’s wonders – which most have never seen, even those driving past do not know the delights they are missing!  Seeing these formations from the air was really special, adding to the highlights, causing fresh radio chatter between the two planes; each indicating to the other which formation to look at next.  It was decided to increase separation of the aircraft, so that we could each take photos and enjoy, without reducing the safety margins that we hold so dear. 

Suddenly the land drops away like a miniature rift valley.  There, ahead, towers tall, sprawling and with all of its economic importance, is Techiman.   This town, reputedly, hosts the busiest market in West Africa – and it is big, busy and incredibly cosmopolitan.

We route past the Aysitu International School building, home to the most active Aviation Club in Ghana, around the East of the Town, and look for the blue roofs of Ghana Nuts.  Flying straight overhead of the factory we know we are in line for the runway at Techiman. 

The Chiefs had been calling for over a week, telling us how excited they were at our coming.  Time was running short and we had to decide ‘land or just do a touch and go’.  Kumasi had been the planned ‘rest’ stop, but with time running out we needed to make a call – stop in Techiman or stop in Kumasi.  It was really a ‘no-brainer’, Techiman had to be the stop, and Kumasi would only get a touch and go.  Why?  Simple.  Techiman had a group of children at the airstrip, excited to meet Patricia, desperate to see the planes close up, and, the chiefs continued to demonstrate an active interest in growing their aviation potential.  Bravo Techiman!  The real spirit of pioneering is in their hearts, and this was an opportunity to feed that energy and stimulate growth.

The two aircraft approached over cashew trees and landed on the well maintained dirt and grass strip.  Children, Chiefs, Community Leaders and press were neatly lined up at one side.  Few rural airstrips in the world could be so ordered and well mannered.  Both aircraft parked and shut down on the opposite side of the runway – and still everybody stayed on their line.  We crossed the runway to a welcome fit for those of much more worth than four aviators tripping around Ghana.  The ‘Akwaaba’ was outstanding – and orderly, in keeping with the highest standards.  Drinks and snacks were offered, words of thanks, encouragement and support shared.  A group photo was taken and it was time to head on towards Kpong, via Kumasi and Ho.

Kumasi was shrouded in a thin blanket of unseasonably early Harmattan dust; we touched the wheels on the runway and swiftly headed towards the Afram leg of the Lake Volta – a pleasant route towards Ho.  With visibility running at around five kilometres, our tiredness catching up with us, and our scheduled slot at Kotoka looming, we decided to skip Ho and head straight to Kpong. 

The flooded communities below us were many – the lake had truly risen a great deal.  The lakes rise would give us one more outstandingly amazing memory before touching down in Kpong – the sight of the spillway at Akosombo, from the air.  Plumes of white mist were visible many miles before reaching the site.  We descended from Akosombo to the green smooth runway at Kpong, our home base, and smiled at each other as we knew there was only one more leg to go.

Next Week: Kpong – Accra – Kpong :

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS – The Best Flying Experience in West Africa (   e-mail

Monday, November 29, 2010

November 29th

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
Continuing the Expresso ‘All Over Ghana’ flight of Patricia Mawuli Nyekodzi; from Sunyani to Tamale…

We awoke to grey skies with light drizzle.  The cloud base was too low for our planned departure, so we contented ourselves by wiping down the aircraft to remove the water pooled upon the aircraft.

The fuelling gantry was put in place, and just as the fuelling was about to begin a rain shower stopped play.  More wiping down and we finally got the machines ready to go.  The sun burst through the clouds, as we started the engines, about three hours later than planned.

Climbing out from Sunyani airport we waved goodbye to our friends at this GA friendly airport.  The radio burst with a request for estimates for the first leg of the flight to Tamale.  We had left Sunyani at 10:00, estimated Bui at 11:00, Mole at 12:00 and Wa at 13:00, a fascinating one-hour – one-hour banding in our planning. 

Patricia comfortably led the formation towards Bui, having flown the survey there for the Authority a couple of years back.  We had deliberately set a route that took us to intersect the area a few miles west of the dam site, in order to enjoy the sharp, knife-edge, rocky-ridges that thrust through the surface of the planet in such a unique manner.  Flying along them towards the dam was outstanding, and raised miles-of-smiles from the crewmembers.

The dam-site itself has changed dramatically.  The just-downstream bridge that had collapsed was renewed with a much more long-term affair, spanning the muddy gush of Black Volta water, near where the Hippo’s live.  We circled over the area hunting the sight of a ‘hippo-eyes’ peeking out of the water, to no avail.  Then, as we turned towards the dam site, we could see the ingenious manner in which they had set about managing the water during the build.  Machines worked on a high ledge to the east of the dam, and people moved around as if they were termites’ building a new mound to celebrate their existence. 

Enjoying being amongst the ‘final few’ to view this valley before its baptism in electricity producing lake; the Black Volta really is a perfectly curvaceous, meandering river at this point – only visible in its full glory from a platform in the sky.  The planes flew abreast for a while, snapping pictures of each other against the plains below.  At this point the terrain starts to change, like a sea changing from high crashing waves to gentle, calmer waters, the terrain becomes flat, and its expanse is seemingly endless, almost allowing you to feel the curvature of the surface of the earth.

Mole came into view suddenly, surprising all of us.  The two hours sight-seeing tour out of Sunyani had flashed by in the magic moments of celebration of the beauty of Brong Ahafo and the Northern region.   Mole game reserve is very special, and yet so many Ghanaians have never visited it.  There we were, sitting atop a magnificent, natural and well staffed resource, so little patronised, compared to its potential.  We spot the airstrip ahead, just south east of the base camp; the latterite strip marks a brown line, through the green of the low trees surrounding it.  A pass over the airstrip is in order, but not a low-pass, for we know that the strip is not useable, being overgrown and splattered with tufts of grasses that could damage an undercarriage or spoil a propeller.  There are enough clear areas for an emergency landing, but that is all.  We had asked a pilot friend to inspect the week before, and his report was confirmed by the visuals.  We so badly wanted to land and shake the hands of the Game and Wildlife guides, to encourage them, but we could not – not this time! 

Flying over the base camp and the main water-hole, it was clear that elephants would not be close to this ‘human-smelling place’ when there was so much water and vegetation in the deep bush.  We decided to break North, and it was a good decision.

A few kilometres North-West, over deep forest, we spotted elephant tracks – lots of them.  I have only seen scattered elephants at Mole, so I was surprised at the intensity of pushed-over trees and trampled grasses.  We had been informed that seeing elephants at this time of year would be unlikely, since they can hide in the forest so easily. Not being down-hearted, we decided to try a couple of surveillance turns around the tracks.  Just the sight of tracks was enough to give us a joyful, additional beat in our hearts.  Then, Patricia squealed so loudly that the radio seemed superfluous – ‘I can see them!’; and indeed she could.  There must have been fifty or more elephants in two groups marching through the forest, trunks raised, column defined, as if an army of grey giants.  We circled above them for about ten minutes snapping all that we could.  Using the dual-controls in each aircraft, we took it in turns for look-out and to fly whilst the other ogled the bundles of muscles parading below us.  The elephant calves appeared to have their own classes, separate from the larger beasts, the babies walked tail-in-trunk along a narrow pathway, chaperoned at front and back by a larger elephant.   This was, without doubt, nor hesitation, one of the highlights, not just of this trip, but of any pilots flying career.

The enjoyment of the route on to Wa was hampered by the growing intensity of Harmattan. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the ever changing terrain and dusty surfaces below.  We entered Upper West, the first time for all on board, and started ‘hunting’ the runway at Wa.  Wa is not a large Regional Capital, but its runway is.  The runway dwarfs the town.  The runway is superior to the vast majority of runways in West Africa – it is phenomenal, sitting there, waiting for metal birds to perch upon it.  We could almost have landed across the runway, for it is so wide, and well maintained, yet, poorly frequented. 

Security came out and greeted us, as did the looming Harmattan sky to the north. 
We decided to call off the route segment to Bolgatanga, both weather and time were against us, and safety must, as always, come first. 

The flight to Tamale was uneventful, apart from a detour around a hidden weather system and limited Harmattan views.

Tamale really is the second city in Ghana when it comes to aviation infrastructure - the runway, the tower, the terminal building, the large hangar… Both aircraft landed and taxied to a warm welcome. The airport manager appeared almost as excited as we were at the visit, the ATC and whole cohort seemed to tumble across the apron to welcome us to this fast-growing city with phenomenal potential!  Thanks goes to the Ghana Air Force, who cheerfully provided a safe, well guarded hangar for our aircraft, whilst we headed to the city to a welcoming hotel, to ready for the last day of our trip.

Next week: Tamale to Kpong.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS – The Best Flying Experience in West Africa (   e-mail

Monday, November 22, 2010

November 22nd

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
Continuing our account of the around Ghana flight, from Takoradi to Sunyani…

The crew sat on the apron at Takoradi, oil company helicopters and a Beech 1900D flew in, and out again.  Our eyes were fixed upon the blackening sky, distracted only by the satellite image from the tower.   If not out before the weather, we may have be held down in Takoradi overnight.  Assessments were made, based on all available information, coupled with experience of flying in the incredibly changeable weather systems of the Western Region. 

Based on the two visible weather systems, and glimpses of clear skies in the distance, backed-up by the multi-coloured images taken from space, we called for a ‘go’.  We all climbed out from the half-wetted runway and swung an immediate right, keeping the storm cell visible at all times.  Slow-moving storms, as are common at this time of year, still need to be treated with the respect you would show a lion that has not eaten for a couple of weeks.

We cleared the storm at our four o’clock position, enjoying the undulations of the forest-lands below us.  Cocoa plantations were growing in size, and deepening in the rich colours that only cocoa seems to be able to paint the forest floor with.  Western Region is rich in resources, but it is also one of the poorer regions of Ghana; medical cover, particularly along the boundary with Côte d’Ivoire, is not incompatible with the problems experienced in our Northern Regions. 

It did not take long for us to spot a massive gold mine.  The scar of the open-cast mining operations, a reddish brown ‘oil-slick’ upon the sea of the forest, dominated the view from the cockpit.  The trucks moving over the surface, although massive, appearing like small fishing-vessels bobbing upon the slick. 

Caution must be exercised when flying at lower levels near mines, due to the potential ejections from blasting operations.  Since we were flying below three thousand feet for this mission, we needed to steer a suitably wide berth of all mining operations.  We saw a bright blue pond on the outskirts of another mine, the colour not a natural one, belonging more to some sci-fi landscape.  The mines have their labour communities tucked a few kilometres from their sites – not unlike hotel-ships anchored on the green-sea of tall trees.

Moving close to Mim, we see the effects of recent rains, with rivers whose banks have been burst for weeks.  Water-world landscapes, with trees emerging from the soggy landscapes. Amazingly few communities seemed affected – perhaps through good luck, or, maybe, more from better judgement in the location of communities in this area.

The sea-of-forest gained in density, and intensity, as we headed toward Mim.  This town once boasted an airfield in regular use, but that went awry a long time ago.  Fortunately, the Cashew Plantation has created a new airfield – magnificently rectangular, creating a three thousand foot long ‘number 1’ in the midst of the trees.  Furthermore, trees have been planted around the strip, making it more symmetrical – almost mystical – as it lies besides a spectacular hillock that has punctuated the landscape for the past millennium.  An island of solace for pilots as they fly over, the otherwise interminable, ‘ocean of trees’.

The colours of cashew are magnificent.  Totally different to the cocoa in density, leaf colour and texture;  I wonder whether Cashew trees are the sirens of this sea of green, for they draw you closer, their colours and shapes the temptresses of the forest.  Indeed, we were drawn, for we had promised a low-pass to the Mim-people, and so both planes came ‘low-and-slow’ over the strip, donating excess altitude, only to purchase it back, with our Rotax engines, as we climbed away into the afternoon sky.

Approaching Sunyani, a sense of achievement ran between the two aircraft, and we all realised that ‘day one’s’ flying was coming to a close.  We talked, over the radio, about a possible trip around the Brong Ahafo area during the afternoon.  Lined-up to land at Sunyani, joining from the south on long finals; the first time any of us had landed at Sunyani from that direction.  The usual landmark of the well planned hospital was now invisible behind the town; a tarmac road, to the West of town, flashed underneath us, as we continued our approach; the comms towers to our right, standing straight, as if saluting our arrival in this regional capital.

We arrived one after the other, touching the runway with the tenderness of a parents kiss on the forehead of their child.  Similar love and caring went into the building of these aircraft, and always goes into the flying of them.

The dulled-through-age-red fire-engine, sitting in front of Sunyani’s 1950’s style terminal, had its lights on to greet us. The ambulance, sitting next to it, spilled its team to wander across the apron towards the two aircraft, as they shut down their engines and our crews set about tying down.

The warm, wide smiles of the Sunyani-ites moved in to greet with enthusiasm.  The young ladies in the security team dominated Patricia’s time – they all seemed to want to be seen next to their heroine.  Patricia, as always answered a million questions, many of them repetitive, all of them answered seriously, with a smile, a warm touch and a tone of encouragement.  Everybody was invited to visit Kpong Airfield, and, in true Ghanaian tradition, everybody said they would!

The sky was darkening, and the support vehicle had only reached Kumasi – still over ninety minutes away - so we decided to call it a day for flying activities.  The airport manager extended his usual warm hand of friendship, and assured us that security would be keeping a good eye out for our ‘babies’ on the apron.  The aircraft were secured, and the short walk to Aviation Lodge undertaken.  Several taxi’s sought to carry us the kilometre, but our legs needed stretched, and the afternoon air was not too sticky for a brisk walk, laden with aviation paraphernalia of headsets, GPS, maps and cameras galore.

Once in the Lodge, we looked at maps for the next days route, none of us ready to let down our guard, for we knew that the next leg was one of unknown territory, dense, hard to reach places, that made some of this day’s flying seem like a walk in the park. 

That evening, in the restaurant gardens, where we ate ‘alfresco’ with large, heavy and noisy drops of rain tapping on the roof of the summer house, the radio was talking about some ‘girl of 22 years’ making her way around the country, in a plane that she had built.  We all smiled, as we listened to the staff who found the idea ‘unbelievable’, then we laughed when they finally accepted, mouths wide open, jaws tapping on their knees, as Patricia told them that ‘she was the one’ and answered more questions about aircraft, aviation and the potential for rural development that we are only just scraping the surface of… 

Next week: Sunyani to Tamale.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS – The Best Flying Experience in West Africa (   e-mail

Monday, November 15, 2010

November 15th

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
Following on from last weeks intro to the ‘expresso - Dare to Dream All Over Ghana flight’ of Patricia Mawuli Nyekodzi, this week I will share the ‘sights of the flight’ from Kpong to Takoradi.

The climb-out of Kpong was, as always, fantastic.  Krobo Mountain, purchased by the Government, of the then Gold Coast, in 1892, passed on our nine o’clock position.  Krobo Mountain is one of our under-realised tourist assets, dressed beautifully for the occasion.  Clad in stones of grey, decorated with the emeralds of trees and shrubs, seemingly smiling at us, bestowing some ancient blessing, as we flew past it.   Both crews had agreed to wait until the cloud cleared sufficiently for a safer-than-minimums departure, but the sky was still not as clear as we had hoped.  Experience of the weather is important to all aviation safety but especially light aviation safety.  Operating in the lower airspace you are far more likely to encounter thermals and clouds, and need to be more vigilant than ever!

The clouds past the ridge were sufficiently scattered, that we could fly VFR ‘on top’.   ‘On top’ is when you are above a thin, patchy layer of cloud, with clear visibility to the ground below.  The places through which you see the ground are called ‘holes’.  So, as you fly along, riding the currents above the cotton-candy swirls of vapour, looking for potential emergency landing areas within reach via a ‘hole’, ensuring that there is always a way back ‘under’; making decisions on a minute-by-minute basis about safety, and keeping an eye on the other aircraft, since you are flying in patrol, on the adventure of a lifetime…

I asked Patricia several times if she wanted to ‘go back under’ and she made it clear that she was comfortable, both verbally and in the competence of her flying.  This was a marked improvement on early ‘on top’ flying during training, where, due to the change in visual clues and familiarity, she had then expressed concerns.  Not today!  Likewise, the crew in the other aircraft were happy to remain on top, and so the flight from Somanya to almost Saltpond, was in the sunny skies, with white floating mushrooms punctuating the multi-hued greens of the patchwork quilt of Eastern, Greater Accra and Central region below us.

Although the view of the landscape below was not a perfect one, it did reveal the wealth of Ghana’s agricultural resources.  Somanya lead the pack with mango; mango fields litter the ‘Somanya Valley’, practically the ‘Ceres Valley of Ghana’ these days!  Crossing the ridges and passing Koforidua the evidence of Cocoa starts, but only in relatively small quantities.  The smatterings of Citrus groves increase and are enticing, the colour and shape of their leaves so different, but also bland compared to many other crops on view.  Oil palm becomes noticeable as the occasional palm wine tapper, brewing some ‘happy juice’ passes under the wings of the plane.  Cassava, it appears to my eye, is rapidly reducing in hectare-age, this staple has given way to more convenient carbohydrate sources, in the sophisticated Ghanaian culinary gambit.  Tracks, roads and incessant latterite weavings, coupled with the many brown streams, often lined with raffia palms, made the landscape look more like a life sized jigsaw puzzle. 

Communities tend to stick like magnets to the sides of the trunk roads, but certainly not always.  Isolated communities, ranging from a few to several hundred properties, appear to have been thrown across the landscape.  In many cases the communities appear inaccessibly by any type of motor-vehicle know to man. 

Part of this flight, probably the least understood part, is to gain a nationwide ‘feeling’ for the potential of the Humanitarian Aviation Logistics activities of Medicine on the Move – already that potential is evident, in places we had never imagined, so relatively close to major conurbations.

The bank of cloud hugging the coastline thickened, and grew taller, in the not-to-distant future track of the aircraft.  Two radio communications later, and the planes slid gracefully through a large ‘hole’,  enjoying the scenery from around seven hundred feet above the turf.

The coastline was sharply defined by the deeper shade of the sea, turning white as it crashed on the magnificent beaches that gild the southern boundary of the country.  Then, as if suspended above the surface of the ocean, an oil rig could be spotted, it looked like it had a boat alongside, but it was too far off to get a clear look.  Never mind the oil, the historical, albeit macabre history, coastline below us begged us to hug closer, as we swung to the West. 

Saltpond lives up to its name, as the basins of drying saline yield crystalline, white, mini-mountains of sodium chloride.  The workers in the salt fields glanced up at the pair of aircraft, unaware that our journey was only just beginning; probably assuming that it was another ‘oil flight’, since so many zip up and down the coast between Accra and Takoradi every day.

Looking along the ankle bracelet of coastal communities, many wearing coconut palms, our eyes were drawn to the castle line.  Cape Coast really is outstanding, especially from the air.  The large castle, dating in its earliest form from the mid-1600’s, holds in its heart the cries and screams of so many, as it continues to breathe the fresh sea air that carried many strong, able and determined human beings towards uncertainty on the crashing waves, and then beyond.  The history is important to remember, but the magnificence of the ensemble supersedes that background.  The university town is more than a staging post for flesh sales, and those who have not seen Cape Coast from the air cannot appreciate the outstanding beauty this aerodrome-less regional capital displays.  If only we could have landed and spent a day in the city… our necks twisted around to catch a last glimpse of Cape Coast, as the coast line that lay ahead of us, the ‘sandy-yellow brick road’ to Takoradi, drew us along, seemingly on tracks, towards the oil capital.

Other historic buildings, some we could not name, some clearly not on the tourist trail – yet clearly worthy of a visit, could be spotted.  Some on the coast, another a little inland, raised up on a hillock. 

Elmina Castle, Cape Coast’s older brother, built in 1482 by the Portuguese, has the added interest of the fishing harbour.  How those wonderfully decorated boats all fit into the slim passage of water is truly amazing.  Again, the desire to land and explore filled our hearts, but that would be for another day, when the community establishes a small airfield for the purpose.

With storms now chasing us a few tens of kilometres behind, it was time to join the circuit to land in Takoradi, its port brimming with oil related traffic.  Showers blessed us on the final approach, and both aircraft gracefully touched down on the first ‘meet and greet’ stop of this around Ghana tour.  Next week: Takoradi to Sunyani.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS – The Best Flying Experience in West Africa (   e-mail

Monday, November 8, 2010

November 8th

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
My visual cortex is still in overload.  As I write this, we are a little more than 36 hours since completing the ‘Expresso – Dare to Dream – All Over Ghana Flight’, and yet I am still unable to process, understand and express clearly all that we have seen over the three day flight that took us around our country, at three thousand feet or below!

A lot of planning went into the trip, logistical and safety related, plus the idea of making the trip interest laden.  All four crewmembers experienced visual and mental euphoria from the variety of sights we experienced, for Ghana is truly a blessed country, and one that we have only scratched the surface of its potential.  Over the next six weeks I hope to give you a virtual seat in the aircraft, piloted by Patricia Mawuli Nyekodzi, and to pass on just a little of the sights and emotions that made this tour so exciting and memorable…

Twelve hours before departure we were busy printing the final documents needed for the trip.  The country was represented on three maps, southern sector, central sector and northern sector.  These maps, sized to fit on the knee-board for easy reference in the aircraft, were clearly marked with lines and headings.  The lines reflected the courses that had been segmented and uploaded into the moving-map, terrain-aware GPS systems we use regularly.  Contact sheets, with radio frequencies, names and numbers were completed and laminated.  A route sheet was printed with distances, times, headings, latitudes and longitudes, along with estimates for fuel consumption.  Last minute packing was completed, camera batteries charged and all things laid out for an orderly departure in the morning.

Four o’clock on the morning of departure, first November 2010, the crew passed from shallow, anticipatory sleep to wide-awake, excited and as prepared as possible for the day ahead.  Converging on the airfield at five thirty am, the aircraft, already prepared as much as possible, were pushed from their hangars onto the grass apron of Kpong Field under the dawn light.  The fresh dew on the grass spraying its fresh, cool blessing, spun off the wheels of the aircraft’s undercarriage as the sky’s pink hues deepened and low level misty clouds shrouded the mountains and ridges around the airfield.

Loading of tools, emergency supplies and final topping-off of fuel took a little longer than planned.  But there was no rush, since the cloud-base was low, and Takoradi had expressed a preference for a landing after nine-thirty.  A smattering of Press Corps were present – those who could rise early and had the understanding that this adventure would write a new page in Ghana’s aviation history.  We entertained the crowd with the background to how Patricia had learned to build aircraft and fly, and the story of the girl who started by digging out tree stumps and went on to become an aircraft engineer, pilot and flying instructor.

The ground support vehicle loaded with the items for as many practical challenges as possible had three hundred litres of Super Effimax (our preferred fuel), tyres, wheel hubs, tools, engine spares, airframes spares, fueling-platform and items for the overnight stops.  The support vehicle would route direct to Sunyani on day one, a trip that would take longer by road than our flight to Koforidua, Cape Coast, Takoradi, Mim and Sunyani combined.  Boat, the smiling driver with a calm disposition and interest in all that was going on, tied down the tarpaulins and stood next to his truck.  The ground support vehicle was supplied by the Atlantic Group, and the tarps had details of air-conditioning, computers, electronic and electrical marvels – items that would be of no use to the thousands of people whom would live under our tracks, where electricity has still to find its route to.

A quick call was made to Air Traffic Control in Accra, informing them of the imminent departure of two aircraft, each with ten hours fuel on board, two crew and emergency supplies, the route and a limitation of operations below three thousand feet, unless approved otherwise in flight.  Patricia, a pilot licence holder for just fifteen months, gave her last ‘press comments’ and we climbed aboard the machines. 

In the built-in-Ghana, blue and white, Zenith CH701 aircraft, registration 9G-ZAC, Patrick, the first Ghanaian man to obtain Ghana’s National Pilot’s Licence (PUP), took the controls from the left seat.  Patrick, like Patricia, had learned to fly in Ghana at Kpong Airfield, his piloting skills clearly in the upper quartile, and his calm, measured approach to the task-in-hand essential to safety.  Patrick was looking forward to exercising his skills learned over the past five years and to discovering parts of his homeland that he had only heard about. To his right Martin, a telecoms executive, pilot and adventurer, sat with a grin to make a Cheshire cat look like a mourner.  Martin wanted to see as much of Ghana as possible.  A British national, who has worked in the Antarctic, lived in Russia and travelled extensively, including flying aircraft from Russia to England, had really wanted to be on this trip.  Never having flown this class of aircraft before coming to Ghana, he had realised that they had the potential to reach otherwise unimaginable locations, and was as happy as a ‘pig in muck’ to be on board.

In the identically built, little red and white aircraft, registration 9G-ZAF, Patricia sat ‘left seat’ – the Commander, Pilot-in-Command or Captain’s seat - and I took the right hand, passenger/co-pilot seat.  My role was that of photographer, trip safety and communications officer for the formation flight around the country.  What a privilege this was, having taught the two lead pilots to fly; having taught Patricia to build aircraft; now having the opportunity to accompany them on a voyage of discovery that would make their eyes widen, their minds whirl and their perceptions of Mother Ghana change forever.

For the past twenty-four hours my e-mail box overflowed with messages and my phone rang non-stop from so many well-wishers and sponsors, without whom this trip could not be realised.  Notably, a message from a famous American lady pilot in New York, who plans to come out to Ghana next year to fly with Patricia; a search and rescue pilot from California who has followed Patricia’s progress after meeting her whilst in Ghana a few years ago; the team from Business and Financial Times; UT Bank, the Unique Bank for Real People; Wire Weaving Industries and of course, Expresso, who’s slogan of ‘Dare to Dream’ says it all in relation to what was about to happen. 

The doors were closed, wafting the faint smell of fuel from outside through the aircraft.  We looked to the ridge to the West and the sky above, realising that the cloud base was still low, but manageable.  A couple of radio calls between the aircraft and it was time to start the engines – the adventure, discovery and demonstration beyond doubt that Ghana builds aircraft and trains its own capable pilots, in the light aviation sector, was only just beginning…

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS – The Best Flying Experience in West Africa (   e-mail

Monday, November 1, 2010

November 1

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
If all things are equal, by the time you read this, I and others, will be en-route on an around Ghana flight.  This should make the next few weeks articles a little more interesting!  Furthermore, the Wednesday Aerial Picture of the Week will take a wider tour than usual.

Meanwhile, in preparation, here we are, still planning the route, considering alternates, fuel burn calculations and imagining the challenges, and putting safety first in all things.

I am sure that, by now, you are asking yourself ‘Why fly around Ghana?’, which would be a good question.  Of course, it goes along with ‘Why climb a mountain?’ and ‘Why walk to the North Pole?’, as a challenge, which always gets the response ‘Because it is there, and it has to be done!’

The reasons for this ‘Tour de Ghana’ or the ‘All Over Ghana Flight’, sponsored by Expresso Telecom – Dare to Dream, is complex and multi-faceted.  First of all, Ghana is a magnificent, varied and charming country.  Secondly, as far we can ascertain, no civilian team has completed this trip before.  Thirdly, nobody has attempted anything like this in an aircraft built in Ghana.  And as if that were not enough, because it will raise awareness of Medicine on the Move (MoM), the Humanitarian Aviation Logistics operation.  This route, sponsored by Expresso, the telecommunication network behind the enigmatic ‘Cliq’ adverts and EVDO mobile data service, weather permitting, should take in all ten regional capitals.  The sponsorship twist is that we will be flying all over Ghana, and Expresso covers all of Ghana with their telecoms service.  Personally, I prefer the CDMA technology over GSM, and I really hope that their project is successful – mainly because it will mean that we can get great in-flight phone coverage and real time weather images from the internet due to the extended range of their equipment.  Other sponsors of this event include UT Bank, Wire Weaving Industries, Atlantic Group and the BFT.  The flight is a MoM flight, and the aviation logistics is provided by WAASPS, who also built the aircraft and trained the Ghanaian crewmembers. 
On Monday the first of November, the date of this edition, we will set off with two CH701 aircraft, built by Ghanaian young ladies, from Kpong Airfield in the Eastern Region early in the morning.  The first leg of the route will take us over the Akuapem-Togo range to Koforidua, celebrating the first regional capital on the list and giving Eastern Region its placement early on.  Routing slightly to the south, we will then set a cap on Cape Coast.  This should give a wonderful view of the coast and the variety of castles along the way (perhaps we can get a picture, or two or probably more, for the Photo of the Week for this newspaper).  The Central Region is fascinating, with what I call ‘God’s putty landscapes’.  It is as if God had some spare sod left over from making the planet, and threw it down to make fufu balls of hillocks in the middle of the Central region. 

As we fly into the Western Region, looking out to sea for the oil rigs, we will then position ourselves to enter the pattern at Takoradi, waiting for an appropriate moment to land.  Once landed, we will stretch our legs, pay any courtesy calls to the ‘facilities’ before setting off for Mim, the Cashew Capital of Ghana in Brong Ahafo.  At Mim we will do a low pass, celebrating Ghana’s newest airfield before the short leg away from the multi-coloured cashew trees into Sunyani.

We are no strangers at Sunyani, and have enjoyed operating from there before, but this day will be different.  This time we will be stepping upwards and outwards, across the Northern Region, towards the Upper West at first light the next day. 

The route from Sunyani to Wa routes past the picturesque Black Volta and its hippos near the Bui dam construction site, then over the Mole game reserve and its plethora of fauna.  Stretching legs at Wa will be a first for the crewmembers, since, as far as I know, none of us have had the pleasure to visit the Upper West Capital’s runway.  In fact this is a leg that I am really looking forward to.  A couple of years ago I flew over the Bui dam as they started construction, it will be great to see the developments now, as well as to go to the Upper West for the first time.  Some of the rock formations as you fly northwards are outstanding and can only be appreciated from a low-and-slow aerial platform – which means we are in for a treat!

After Wa, weather and time permitting, we will swing out to the North East, past Upper East’s capital of Bolgatanga, before routing south to Tamale.  It is a long way out of the way from a direct flight to Tamale, but we really want to visit all of the capitals, if we possibly can.  Tamale is a wonderful place to visit, and I have fond memories of being at the airport there in 1994.  The only problem with Tamale is that it is so far away, if it were closer we would all love to visit it more often.  The Northern Region capital is so different to Accra, Kumasi and Takoradi in the South.  When visiting last, I was enthralled by the bird life in the city.  Whereas Accra has the famous ’37 Bats’, so the weaver birds of Tamale should have equal celebrity status.

On leaving Tamale, on Wednesday morning, we will be routing roughly south to fly past Techiman en-route to Kumasi.  Kumasi is a regular stop-over, and it will be nice to be landing back at a familiar airfield.  We will not be able to linger long at the centre of Ashanti-land, before we head due-East to see Ho in the Volta Region before returning to Kpong Airfield.  With a top of fuel, we will then head to Accra, where we plan to touch the wheels on the tarmac at the busiest airfield in Ghana, and, all things being equal, complete a trip to take in the ten capitals of the regions, and a few other sights of note!

If after reading this you are still asking ‘Why?’ then you need to read this again, with a more open mind.  We must all be ready to ‘Dare to Dream’, and if we dare, we may just realise that we can discover new places, establish that it can be done, and gain even greater motivation towards the next dream, which grows to become a vision, and then to a reality.  There is so much to see and discover in Ghana, and doing it by air is a great way.  Moreover, using the flying doctor aircraft, piloted by a dynamic, young Ghanaian lady pilot, will provide evidence and confidence in a wider range of people and potential advocates of Ghanaian Humanitarian Aviation Logistics.  You can follow our progress in the special blog posts via and

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS – The Best Flying Experience in West Africa (   e-mail