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

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