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 (http://www.waasps.com/   e-mail capt.yaw@waasps.com)

No comments:

Post a Comment