Monday, January 31, 2011

January 31st

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
How wonderful it is to be back in the air – visibility is good enough for some local flights and training operations too!  However, isolated rain storms have a nasty tendency to draw the Harmattan back in and, coupled with the forecast of snow in Europe, is an indicator of more Harmattan haze weaselling its way back into our airspace!

During this window of opportunity to be in the lower airspace of Ghana, I had the privilege of flying with a time served US aviator, somebody with far more experience in a variety of machines than I could ever imagine.  Aviators and fishermen have a lot in common when it comes to telling stories, and so, we exchanged stories and experience in large volumes.  I sometimes wonder if it is ever possible to become bored at hearing about peoples experiences in flying machines.  Whether I am reading a book about a pilot, engineer, air traffic controller or some other account of an aviation exploit, or watching a movie about historical aviation (not the fictitious accounts), or, preferably, sitting nearby and looking into the eyes of the man or woman sharing their memories with colours and expressions that make the Hubble telescope look like a toy!

The added advantage of sitting at the airfield and sharing such stories, is that it can lead to a shared flight, a moment of communion in the sky, a mutual moment of story convergence and, with it, the creation of a bond, a conjugation of two aviators stories - a cross-roads of commonality.

I have shared the cockpit with many people, and some I have very dear memories of.  In 1996 I had my one and only flight in a small jet plane, two-seat, a lot of power and a kick in the small of the back thrust that made you smile.  I sat in the front seat, and although I could not see the face of my ‘mentor’ behind me, I could feel his every movement in the stick and rudder, power adjustments and changes of every moment.  It is an experience that I cherish very dearly, and one of the reasons that I have so much commitment to sharing aviation today.

I remember my first flight in a Tiger Moth, the open cockpit, the rather unpleasant smell of the old face mask, the touch of the mid-1900’s webbing holding me in as we fly upside down across the Kentish countryside.  My mentor on that day was a school teacher, who loved aviation, and when not in school teaching mathematics, was at the airfield teaching flying and conversion training.  Another bond, a link, a node on the web of experiences that makes aviation so, so special.

At one point I was privileged to fly with a British Aerospace test pilot, it was in an Opus, a little known aircraft with a three cylinder engine.  I flew it in Scotland – and I learned a lot of tricks in that one hour, from a pilot imbued with flying techniques.  That node sat in my repertoire of storytelling for a long time.  Then, a couple years ago, whist visiting another aviation story sharer, I came across the little Opus Sweetheart, sitting in a hangar, with a different engine up the front – the very same machine!  I asked, ‘where did you get that from?’ and the story telling began, creating a node that joined up and cross-linked, wove a thread and strengthened the bond anew, and in a more exciting manner than before.

Aviation is a village.  Pilots, aircraft owners, engineers, Air Traffic Controllers, airfield managers, etc. all share the same small piece of turf, and all are telling their stories, re-telling the stories that they have heard, sharing their experiences and creating a well-knit chain-mail of super-strength that protects and promotes the future of aviation.

Sadly, as in all villages, not all the players are genuine, some make up stories simply to impress - not correctly motivated, at all! 

I have heard stories that are so unbelievable, but are completely true, as well as many stories that are totally believable but complete fiction. 

Whist working in France, I was approached by the Chamber of Commerce to employ a young man with a Commercial Pilots licence who needed a job.  He could not find work in the airline industry, and wanted a job for some cash to tide him over.  I read his CV – it was impressive, how he had learned to fly in Canada, flown all over, yet unable to find work.  I met him and he shared some very believable stories, and so I gave him work that involved ‘pilot orientated skills’ in logistics and communications.  On day one, as I sat him in front of a telephone, he trembled like a building during an earthquake of great magnitude.  To reassure him, I suggested a trip to the local airfield, he declined.  After one week I fired him.  He was unable to perform the basic tasks that one would expect from even a student pilot with regards to co-ordination and logistical operations. 

The local chamber of commerce was disgusted with me, and practically banished me (hence I have not joined a chamber of commerce since).  They told me in no uncertain terms that I had ‘no regard for the high level of qualifications this young man held’.  They quickly placed him in another company.  Little did the young man know, but the CEO of that new company owned an aircraft of the type this ‘pilot’ said he had over two hundred hours in.  So, when the same pattern established itself, the CEO decided to ‘test the water’.   Telling the lad that they were going in a business trip, all joined the car… but they drove only as far as the airport. 

The young man look at the plane and smiled, but quickly lost that smile when he was asked to sit in the cockpit, in the right seat.  The CEO climbed into the left seat and handed a check list to the chap.  With much cajoling the checklist was complete.  The young man refused to do the radio, and finally refused to take the controls.  They never made it to the threshold before the CEO turned the plane around and asked the young man to never come back.

Investigation proved that he had been to Canada, but he had not flown more than a couple of trial flights – he had dreamed of being a pilot, and projected it in his CV.  I was vindicated, and the young man disappeared from the area.

This week a lad arrived at our airfield, stating that he had built an aircraft, he even had pictures!  Sadly, they were from a promotional brochure of a company that we deal with!  He is on our blacklist and will not be allowed on the airfield again. Why?

Well, we all present our stories in manners that sound good, let us be honest!  But, when the story you tell misleads on matters of safety and security, then you are not a safe person to have around an aeroplane… or a business… or any other establishment.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS,  and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

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