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



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