Monday, September 26, 2011

September 26th, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

 What is a cockpit? It is place where two cockerels are placed to fight! At least, that is the original definition of the word, dating from the 1500’s. Later, the similarities to that little pit, in which two hapless male chickens duelled it out in a bloody mess, were noticed in boats and ships, in regards to the location where the coxswain sits and ensures the boat stays on course!

 In 1914 the term was further used to refer to the place where the pilot (and co-pilot/Flight Engineer if applicable) controlled an aircraft from. Later, in the 1930’s the same term was used in racing cars – and all share the same similarities – a little place to sit in, generally climbed down into (think about the early aircraft), from which you take control.

 I am pleased to say that most cockpits in the aviation business are not fighting places, as the origin of the word may indicate!

 The name ‘cock’ is used to refer to a male of the avian type, that being a bird! However, these days, we see more and more women taking the helm of the flying machine.

In the early days of theatre, there was a small booth at the front of the building, and in it would generally be two women, selling tickets. That booth was called the ‘box office’. The ‘box’ in theatre terms, refers to the ‘little balconies’ around the edge of the main auditorium where ‘private groups’ could sit and enjoy the entertainment.

 So, it is no surprise that the term used to describe the cockpit when an all-female crew is on board is, colloquially, the ‘Box Office’ or ‘Boxx Office’. (the double xx representing the female chromosomes). Sadly, there are those with minds of the less ‘genteel’ kind who believe that the first word in each definition has reference to the ‘distinguishing organs’ of the genders.

 To avoid confusion, and since the modern cockpit is nothing like a pit (except in a fighter or race plane) the term ‘flight deck’ is the new name that covers all eventualities!

 It is interesting that more and more airlines like to mix a male and female pilot together to create a balanced, co-operative environment – for each has their strengths, and weaknesses. However, it is hard to do so with so few women pilots in the world. Less than 6% of the world’s pilots are women. So, ladies and girls, see the opportunity! There is a wonderful world of aviation out there, just waiting for more women to join the flock.

 Interestingly, this week sees an event being set up by Women Aviators in Africa (WAAFRIC) taking place in Accra. Chloe Grant, one of the organisers, told me a bit about it, she said, ‘This is our 3rd Annual Conference and the first in West Africa. Women Aviators in Africa intention is to move across the continent each year, this is a great chance for Ghanaian and other West African ladies to get involved in a burgeoning industry across the continent. As a NGO we endeavour to become the premier forum for women aviators throughout Africa and a change catalyst that transforms Africa’s aviation industry.’

The previous two conferences were focused on East/Southern Africa, which has more active civilian aviation than our part of the world, and with it more women in aviation.

 I am pleased to hear that the focus of the event to be held from Friday 30th September to Sunday 2nd October, is primarily on encouragement into the field of aviation – not necessarily into ‘commercial’ aviation. It is exciting to hear the WAAFRIC committee saying ‘We are very honored to have Boeing to assist with our sponsorship.’, demonstrating that the ‘big players’ are realising the potential of such a conference in our part of the world.

 Speakers are scheduled in from all over – and Ghanaian lady pilots, and student pilots, will be sharing their experiences too. I hear that folks are coming from Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Tanzania, Lesotho, Nigeria, Senegal, the USA, Canada, France and Ireland. This is a real achievement for a conference on such a specialist sector of aviation.

 I am told that there are a few spaces left at the event and ‘last minute’ delegates can register their interest with the team, arriving in Accra on Monday (26/9), via The venue for the first two days is ‘Fiesta Royale’ and then on Sunday they are taking a field trip to learn more about women in aircraft engineering and to watch some of our local young ladies present some flying demonstrations.

There is even a segment which promotes aviation for disabled people, a very important and enabling activity for those who are physically challenged.

We wish them all the greatest of success. Ghana is a great choice for such an event, with its strong history of women in aviation, dating back to the 1960’s when women in Ghana Air Force demonstrated their strengths, for which we all raise up Melody Danquah’s achievement as the first female pilot of Ghana’s Air Force, accompanied, in joining up to the armed forces to ‘learn to fly and serve’, by two other equally daring young women.

 Ghana is, today, the only country on the continent to have been awarded certain Women in Aviation Awards, holds front page of this months ‘Women in Aviation’ magazine and has the only ‘Most Female Friendly Airfield’ award on the continent, which was awarded to Kpong Airfield at the international air show in Oshkosh, USA recently. We have much to celebrate and it will be great to have such a gathering in our sub-region.

 As a male pilot and engineer and having flown many tens of different aircraft types, with many other pilots, instructors and students, I have to admit that only one of those I have flown with has left me feeling ‘pleasantly-intimidated’. The young woman, young enough to be my daughter, her blonde hair, light frame and infectious smile hides her true ability when standing on the ground. Once she steps into the cockpit (yes, I still like the 1914 name), takes hold of the throttle and stick, places her feet on the rudder pedals and visibly melts into ‘communion’ with the aircraft. Melissa Pemberton, world class aerobatic pilot, friend and supporter of young women learning to fly in Ghana, is the most able pilot I have ever sat next to. I have flown with her, and she really is my ‘heroine’ when it comes to flying. Not only can she fly with magnificence and precision, she is also able to express her skills to others, she has taught me more than many instructors, and I although she is considerably shorter than I, is a pilot that I look up to, and am proud to have as a supporter of rural aviation in Ghana. Sadly, Melissa cannot make it to the event this week (she is flying aerobatics at air shows around the world) but I know that she supports it, and so should we all, for women have the power to change the world, and let us encourage them to climb into the traditionally male cockpit and make it fly!

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

1 comment:

  1. I love this. You are a master of words. I wish so much that I could join you this weekend. Jury duty on the 30th, and I fly on the 2nd. But know that my heart is with you all...and I will be sitting in the box office with a new outlook on my surroundings. Wishing you well. Hugs to everyone!!!