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

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