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

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