Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Photo of the week, August 31st

Modern light aircraft can be as well equipped as the flight deck of an airliner. This Piper Mirage has a propeller driven by a single 350Hp piston engine. The cockpit is ultra-modern and has similar functions to the bigger aircraft. With six seats and a range of over two thousand kilometres in around five hours, it is understandable why many corporates, and even smaller businesses, in areas such as China and Australia are buying machines like this. Perhaps Ghana will soon be following the worldwide trend in the General Aviation growth, opening up our rural areas and making isolated communities an integral part of the economic developments we seek. Photo Courtesy Patricia Mawuli Nyekodzi

Monday, August 29, 2011

August 29th, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Thank-you to those who commented on last week’s article about airlines and their diversity. Of course, being on an airliner seems to be the most common way people fly in West Africa. It will change as the rural areas open up and airfields such as the one at Techiman gets better patronised and the one at Kete Krachi is approved for operations.

Sadly, last week a Red Arrows pilot, the ‘best of the best’ as some of us see it, died at a display in the UK. These are the selected pilots from the British Royal Air Force who display around the world providing entertainment and aviation awareness. It is said that ‘Every British pilot has received some stimulation, motivation or incentive towards flying from the ‘Reds’’. I know that I have been influenced by them. It is a sad day, not only for the family of Flt Lt Egging, but also all aviators everywhere. We all strive towards zero tolerance of accidents, and when one happens we all mourn together.

The Red Arrows display team was formed in 1965 and has flown more than four thousand displays in over fifty countries. These are single engine trainer jets – and have an excellent safety record. Last year it is reported that two jets came close enough to collide in training, but neither pilots was seriously injured. The jets have ejection seats, and it is believed that Flt Lt Egging did eject, but perhaps too late, after he tried to steer the aircraft towards fields, protecting the lives of those below him.

It would appear that it was an airframe or engine problem since the pilot issued a ‘mayday’ call prior to the crash. All British Aerospace Hawk aircraft in UK were temporarily grounded in case there was a problem that affected other aircraft. Those aircraft have since been permitted to fly, after inspection.

For the next few months experts will reconstruct the crashed aircraft, study every part, look for the cause of the problem, and also see if other problems were developing. This painstaking work is what makes aviation so safe. Every time something goes wrong, be it a problem with deployment of flaps, a bad landing in cross wind or a death, EVERY TIME, the aviation community looks at what happened, and openly discusses what went wrong and how to fix it.

Such openness and clarity from both sides, in a spirit of creating a better and safer aviation environment is paramount to the very safety that you and I experience on the airliners. Furthermore, it is what lies behind the safety in the aircraft that are built and flown in Ghana. Inspection, documentation, sharing the developments, ensuring safety by selecting carefully those who are trained, and those who do the training!

Training for when things go wrong is a very tough part of learning to fly. I admit that I enjoy teaching emergencies, for I get to see the speed of reaction and quality of decision making that goes on. We train on four broad areas of ‘emergency’; engine failures, control failures, instrument failures and recovery from unusual attitudes.

Engine failures are simply ‘the engine fails to give enough power’. That may mean fully stopped or limited power. Imagine that your car engine just quit whilst you were overtaking on the Accra-Tema motorway! The best preparation for an engine failure is to be ready for it. In fact, pilots are taught to always have a ‘chosen location’ in case of an emergency – a sort of escape route. During training I have pulled the power on many students just at the moment that they have passed over an airfield – in the early scenarios they choose a field ahead of them, having forgotten the airfield just behind them. With practice they store a ‘best option’ from the last few minutes all of the time and are ready to select an appropriate course of action whist trying to restart the engine.

Control failures are rare, but we must train for them. For instance, loss or partial loss of control of the rudder, aileron or elevator. In a car, imagine that the steering or brakes started to play up. There is always a solution, and it lies in the use of the other controls in appropriate quantities to maintain control of the aircraft.

Instrument failure training is often called ‘partial panel’, and it is similar to the concept of your speedometer or rev counter failing in your car. It does not stop the aircraft flying, but it does mean that you are not receiving vital information. To simulate this in flight we simply cover up the instrument concerned and let the pilot fly the plane using other available information. Of course, with a glass (computer based) panel, often a failure can mean you lose ALL available information, which has been attributed to some accidents already.

Recovery from unusual attitudes is far more interesting and also very likely to save your life in a moment of need. To do this we ask the student pilot to close their eyes, let go of all controls and the instructor takes control of the machine. Now, the instructor manoeuvres the plane erratically to disrupt the awareness of the student. Then, at a moment when the aircraft is presented ‘in an unusual attitude’ (such as nose high, or in a spiral descent), the instructor releases the controls and calls out ‘you have control’. The student must assess the situation, in a blinking of an eye, and return the aircraft to straight and level controlled flight.

This is not as easy as it sounds, but it is exceptionally good training. One step on from this is the spin awareness training, which requires aircraft cleared for such operations. To enter a spin, the aircraft is taken out of balance at the moment of the stall. The nose will point at the earth and the aircraft will spin, losing height rapidly, and the earth gets bigger very quickly. Recovery is relatively easy, but it needs to be done BEFORE you hit the ground! Such training is carried out at heights that provide time for the instructor to correct the spin in the event that the student fails to.

At times I feel as if I am being tested on engine failure (lack of power), control failure (lack of co-operation), instrument failure (lack of information) or indeed recovery from unusual attitudes (for many of the attitudes to what we do are strange indeed!), as I go through my everyday activities.

Fortunately for me, I have a great team around me, both in Ghana and internationally, who understand the challenges of developmental aviation and appreciate that these are times when we must forge on to make a positive difference, changing lives, one flight at a time.

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Photo of the week, August 24th

These five young ladies from Kete Krachi are undergoing training at Kpong Airfield in 'Rural airfield safety; maintenance and operations' in preparation for the re-opening of their facility on the shores of Lake Volta. Here they are carrying out a FOD (Foreign Object Debris) walk, an essential safety component for any airfield operations. Without a well prepared ground team and well maintained ground facility, air operations are put in jeopardy. Thanks go to Volta Lake Transport Company for supporting their transport costs, to Medicine on the Move for sponsoring their food and supplies and to WAASPS for providing the course and accommodation. As part of their week long exposure they will also cover basic aircraft operations and an introduction to aircraft engineering as well as work on an Airfield Safety Handbook for their community airfield. We all say a big Ayekoo to these young people for their dedication and efforts towards rural developments, and to all in Kete Krachi for their efforts towards sustainable rural aviation. Photo courtesy Medicine on the Move

Friday, August 19, 2011

August 22nd, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Over the past month I have flown as a passenger with Lufthansa, United, Delta and Southwest airlines, as well as having flown at the controls of CH701, CH750, CH801, Boeing Stearman and Extra 300 light aircraft! I cannot help finding flying in the airliners less than satisfying; being held in a seat at thirty five thousand feet without a forward view is not that stimulating for a pilot. However, based specific flights, here is my take on that snapshot of experiences…

Lufthansa provides a clean and fresh environment with incredible levels of care and service. I must say that they are amongst the stricter airlines when it comes to ‘regulations’ and I admire that – it is all part of the German engineering approach, and that is very fitting for an airline! The cabin crew are crisp and efficient and ready to assist, and I must say were very courteous and caring, in a very structured manner. The check in for Lufthansa in Atlanta was outstanding, the usually harrowing experience was smooth and efficient, gilded with smiles and a sense of reassurance, even with many cases. Perhaps it was, in part, due to the fact that Kanisha, the check-in supervisor, had trained as a private pilot, and really cared for her chosen career in aviation, and she was noticeably supported by her station manager Diana. Great team work, Lufthansa!

United was a simple, straightforward and unfussy internal flight with scanty service options. This is reflected in the ticket pricing, and one quickly settles into the ‘no-frills’ environment supported by a cabin crew with a smile. I was left with a slight feeling of having been ‘processed’ rather than the feeling of being a customer, but it was correct, clean and efficient.

Delta was also a ‘bare bones service’. Do note that it was also an internal flight in the USA. I was surprised, however, to have to pay for even the first bag, and as each bag was added the cost-per-bag appeared to soar exponentially. The worst part of the Delta experience was the way that a particular male gate ‘checker’ clearly targeted a young lady from West Africa, in a manner decisively different from his approach to any of the other passengers. It was the only ‘culturally negative’ experience amongst all of these flights, and I hope that it is simply a ‘wild card’ in the organisation. In contrast, the nicest part of the Delta experience was that, at the end of the flight, the Captain and his First Officer stood at the exit and asked if any children would like to ‘have a look’ in the cockpit. A nice touch executed with a smile. Whilst one of our team stopped to look, I waited outside the aircraft, and witnessed the Delta attention to detail with disabled passengers, as they carefully assisted several wheel chair ‘enabled’ people from the cabin to the corridor. Patience, care and empathy exuded, and I commend Delta for that!

Southwest Airlines are a very different kettle of fish, or should I say ‘flock of birds’. Southwest operate over five hundred Boeing 737s and are a purely USA domestic airline. It is an airline that I would fly again in a heartbeat. In fact, it is the closest I have come to fully enjoying a commercial flight ever! They allow two hold bags without charge and are very accommodating, treating you as a customer more than normal! They operate a happy crew, and apparently they used a theory from ants to organise their boarding procedures – which are outstandingly simple.

Of course, the ‘priority boarders’ are allowed to board the aircraft first. Then passengers, via their boarding cards, are put into groups (A, B, C…) and then by numbers (1-50). As their group is called they stand in line by number, against numbered panels with a screen at the front of the queue showing the relevant letter. Interestingly, people jiggled around automatically to make sure that they were in order and of the correct letter. A sort of mini-herd of people, or line of ants! The ‘next-letter-ants’ could be seen preparing at the end of the line, excited at their own ‘rank and position’. Then they are allowed to board, using the free seating arrangement (that is ‘sit where you like’). As one group boards the next group lines up proudly under the letter and number positions assigned to them. On board the aircraft it is remarkably smooth. People find a seat (in an ant like manner) that they like, and naturally choose the seats in a logical and practical manner. Soon the second batch of ‘ants’ boards the plane and simply sit down readily on their freely-chosen seat. Wonderful stuff! No ‘excuse me, that is MY seat!’ or climbing over people to get to the window seat when the middle and isle seat are taken. Magnificently, timely and effectively the ‘ant-theory’ of Southwest made for a rapid embarkation and no visible ‘fraying of tempers’.

At the entrance to the aircraft, the captain himself welcomed us aboard, and, seeing we were carrying a boxed propeller, which he recognised, engaged in a short welcoming and ‘aviation related’ exchange.

The next set of events had me smiling almost as much as if I were at the front end of the plane and at the controls. My flight was to Oakland, California, and when the tall blonde lady with a broad, white smile and pristine Southwest uniform picked up the announcement phone and proclaimed ‘Welcome aboard your Southwest flight to Hawaii’ the plane rippled with ‘wha-did-she-say?’ and ‘o-my-were-going-where?’, until she proclaimed, ‘Oh, sorry, that is where I would like to go, but this flight is going to Oakland, darn it’.

As we came to the safety briefing the announcements went pretty much according to the usual ‘exits, seatbelts, smoking, life-vests, oxygen masks and electrical items’ meeting the requirements of the industry, but clearly our ‘hostess’ was aware that very few people were listening.

I always get annoyed with those who fail to actively acknowledge the safety briefings, since they may well be putting my life at risk in an emergency. I would use a more ‘robust and strict’ approach if I were in the role of giving the briefing to a plane full of folks not paying attention. However, Southwest encourages the use of appropriate humour in its announcements! I encourage you all to Google ‘Southwest Airlines humorous safety briefings’ for many customers have recorded them and do note that the humour increases ‘listening and retaining’ many fold.

Not only does Southwest get a vote of confidence from me for empowering their crews so wonderfully (note: in 1992 they engaged the first black Chief Pilot of any major US airline), but they also get the ‘most cared for passenger feeling’ of any of the flights I have taken with a commercial airline. Should you be flying internally in the USA, consider Southwest - be ready to pay attention to the safety briefing, it might make you smile, and save your life. It certainly made my day!

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

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Photo of the week, August 17th

Dry seasons bring fire risks all over the world. Caution must be exercised in the prevention and control of such infernos. It is worth noting that for many years Yosemite National Parc in California did all it could to prevent them. However, today they manage fires carefully and successfully, and, although rather alarming when you fly over them, are an integral part of the eco-sustainability programmes in place at this magnificent monument. Perhaps we need a more 'focused, coordinated and consolidated approach' to bush fire issues in Ghana. Photo courtesy P. Mawuli Nyekodzi

Monday, August 15, 2011

August 15th, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Pine Mountain Lake is a small gated community tucked away on the edge of the Sierras, not very far from the Yosemite National Park, in California, around two hundred kilometres due east of San Francisco. This community is based around the concept of personal aviation. They abide at three thousand feet above mean sea level, alongside a large canyon and a small man-made lake.

The community there is no different to any community anywhere in the world. There are those with barely enough to make ends meet, as well as those who need not worry overly much about the recent slump on the stock markets – and many shades in between. There are teachers, veterinarians, young, up-and-coming professionals, salesmen, programmers and the like as well as the older folks, no longer working in the same ways, who enjoy certain mornings of each week, when they can reminisce gleefully about their prior exploits (and they do!).

This community is remarkably clean and shares its well-kept gardens and infrequently driven roads with the wild deer and bears who wander the countryside that surrounds this growing village. There is a common, unifying thread that joins this community and also provides a life-line between it and the nearest well equipped trauma centre, at Stockton, about ninety minutes by very windy and hazardous road, or just twenty minutes by air, from their haven. Pine Mountain Lake is an air-park community, ‘plane’ and simple. Alongside modest wooden houses are spectacular aircraft hangars with integrated homes – it is certainly the hangar that is most important ‘room’ in the house in most cases!

As you drive closer to the airfield there are signs stating unambiguously that ‘Aircraft have priority’. You must drive with caution, for at any moment a Cessna, Mooney, Zenith or Beechcraft will start up from the front of a home and start its taxi towards the one thousand meter tarmac strip. Bounding each side of the runway are more homes, more hangars and a ten thousand gallon ‘self-service’ fuel depot. The sides of the runway have a number of hazards; deep drops, gravel patches, electric fences, non-frangible marker boards and the occasional deer or rabbit. There is no tower, no radio and well over fifty ‘active’ aircraft, in addition to those in storage, renovation, repair and build, alongside the human beings that make this community what it is.

This self-managed, self-sustaining community-asset is kept very much alive and incredibly dynamic by the diversity of the people who live, engineer and fly there. Many of them actually fly to work and back each day, into and out of the valley in a fraction of the time it takes to drive! From retired folks with a passion for aviation and no aircraft of their own, through the business men and women who seek refuge from the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley way below and the smattering of famous names from the aviation circuit, these folks stand, sit and fly ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’, seamlessly and with a corporate energy that makes the wattage output from the plethora of wind farms around them seem insignificant.

One of the more famous flyers is the 29,000+ hours in the cockpit Wayne Hadley, aerobatic pilot ‘extraordinare’. He flies the Extra 300L, an aircraft that flips and rolls quicker than I can say ‘what is happening’! Wayne is retired from the show circuit, and still has several records to his name, he is a kindly gentle-person with a passion for sharing. The same passion for sharing is found in large doses in the owners of those with Cessnas, Stearmans, Katanas, Zenith, Beechcraft, Maules and the rest that live together with the common passion.

Nestled down the far side of the runway is a ‘workshop’, therein all manner of apparently dead aircraft are being given the kiss of life and returned to flying duties, slowly but surely and above all else, with safety in mind, by Larry and Linda. Wandering through the workshop there reminds me of many of the ‘engineering shops’ in Ghana. There are some old lathes and mills, a cut-off saw that has seen better days and a motorcycle that is in need of a bit more than some spit and polish to return it to its former glory. The biggest difference is visible when Larry opens a rather old and creaky metal cabinet behind his mill. Whereas at home I see one or two tools sitting in the oil tray waiting to be used beyond their normal life, here I see a range of tools and cones – not one of them young by any means, laid out carefully, stored, ordered and awaiting their call-up orders to transform a metal billet into an aircraft, motorcycle or rabbit cage part.

The machines in this shop are no different to the machines at home in Ghana – in fact some of them are older than the ones at my local ‘engineering centre of excellence’. I cannot find a ‘new’ machine or tool, for this man has experience in his hands and in his tools! We joke about the pre-war articles in his ‘working museum’, knowing that a good many were formed prior to his own birth.

This is not a ‘show’ workshop – not at all. This is a working place, and the latest production of a metal rabbit cage system, designed and constructed using the same materials that flood the Ghana metal workers market (principally 2” square tube) dominates the entrance to his treasure trove.

Looking over the design and construction of the metal rabbit cage, I realised that there was something special about it. It had lots of little tabs welded neatly in place, each one tapped and aligned, furthermore the angle of the ‘droppings’ collector was not incidental, and the influence of aviation on the development of a rabbit farm (well it will hold about 40 rabbits at full whack) was more than just another project. The aviation mind of the aircraft restorer was affecting everything he does. Each weld was carefully ground back and the whole ‘over-engineered-metal-rabbit-meat-farm’ was more aviation than agricultural. Sadly, I did not get to see his chicken coup behind his hangar, but I can tell you that their eggs were good!

With five aircraft under renovation around this ‘rabbit mansion diversion project’, I stood back and realised that I was witness to the very potential that we are in need of in Ghana. Communities of like-minded people, sharing a common goal and allowing their creative expertise to bleed into their non-business activities – and to actually become involved in their own creative projects. The need for well cared for and appropriately used tooling was also evident in all that could be seen around the air-park.

What would it take to create such a community in Ghana? I am not sure that the time is yet ripe, but I am certain that the time is coming – and probably sooner than most people think. As explored in this column time and time again, there is more to aviation than just travel, it really is a way of life for those smart enough and fortunate enough to embrace it!

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

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Photo of the week, August 10th

The plains of Iowa and Missouri in the Mid-West of the USA show clearly how contiguous farmland can be put to excellent use. Fields of perfectly planted maize, healthy and homogeneous in appearance stretch as far as the eye can see in all directions, despite some harsh conditions. Often fields of hundreds of acres are tended by a sole farmer using appropriate technology. Ghana also has vast lands, and potential to develop similar solutions. If the answer was a political one, or one of headline declarations, it would have been established by now. Therefore the answer must lie in how the people approach the use of their land for the common good - and that should be backed by long term policies and access to suitable technical skills - all possible, just a question of when... Photo P. Nyekodzi

Monday, August 8, 2011

August 8th, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

The US administration comes closer than width of a mosquitoes proboscis to defaulting on its international financial commitments and as soon as that hurdle is passed the ‘parliamentarians’ take a summer vacation – leaving another funding story lurking in the halls of the US Senators abode. The Federal Aviation Authority of the United States of America is in turmoil of the cash strapped kind. The FAA requires funding approval from the House – and it has simply not happened. Consequently, four thousand workers are ‘furloughed’ or temporarily laid off without pay and around ten billion dollars of aviation related projects are ‘on hold’ waiting for the politicians to return from their ‘post-debt-approval’ debacle. Many have petitioned for them to stay on and pass the aviation funding bill… apparently without success.

The failure of the US Congress to renew the so called ‘stop-gap-funding bill’ for the FAA (which has been renewed around twenty times over the past four years in order to keep the mammoth nations aviation systems smoothly in operation) has serious consequences for many in these economically challenging times.

Aviation in the USA is not unlike ‘tro-tro’ operations in Ghana – but without the overcrowding and maintenance issues! Many domestic flights are as close to ‘walk-on walk-off’ as you can achieve in aviation. The reason is simple, human and economic accessibility.

To drive from New York to San Francisco takes roughly forty-eight hours of driving, non-stop, on good roads for the full, four thousand eight hundred kilometres, road trip – assuming an average speed of one hundred kilometres per hour and no fuelling or ‘relief’ stops. Flight time in an airliner is a bit less than eight hours – that is less than twenty percent of the drive-time and would take about half the drive-time in an ‘average’ private light aircraft - shaving around six hundred kilometres off the distance too.

Let us assume a drive-time for the seven hundred kilometre road journey from Accra to Bolgatanga as thirteen hours, and a flight time for the same journey at five hundred kilometres by air would be a bit under two hours in a regional jet (assuming Bolga had a suitable airport and a service was on offer), or less than four hours in a light aircraft. Now, it is interesting that the benefit of the light aircraft over road travel is far more marked in the African game-plan – about twice as effective - and although the regional aircraft are still not serving the smaller communities, the concept of using light aviation to reach the ‘market potential’ of our regional capitals and other communities is still, incredibly, a blank slide in our transport perspectives.
In the past week I have met people who have flown themselves across the USA and into Canada and back, simply because it is quicker and more convenient than the regional airline services – even in the ‘air-tro-tro’ environment of the USA. So, I asked ‘why’!

The reasons are simple, the smaller airports, often with grass or low-load-bearing tarmac strips, are not serviced by the regional carriers - even in the USA. Therefore, in many cases the regional carriers can only take you ‘near-to’ your destination and rarely ‘to’; hence using regional carriers often results in the need to rent a car and drive to the final destination of the day. Furthermore, with the increase in access control to the larger airports and aircraft it is not impossible that the drive to the regional major airport, check-in and related time consumptions, is longer than the ‘light-flight’ in getting you to your destination perhaps even quicker than getting air-borne from your place of origin.

The discussions with a friend, who has a couple of small planes of his own, really opened my eyes to the reality of ‘flexible-air-transport for the smaller business folk’.

Take the little town of Mexico, Missouri and the town of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Both towns have their own runways, hangars and simple, safe, community led facilities. To drive between the two is a full eight or more hours of driving. To self-fly between the two is around four hours of wonderful vista flight. However, take a regional air service between them and the time becomes distorted… First you would need to drive from Mexico Missouri to St Louis, a drive time of over one hour. Then to check-in and wait for the aircraft, a further hour or so. There are no direct flights to the destination, so you may choose another regional airport, such as Witman, with a flight time of around one hour, and then rent a car and drive the last hour or so to the destination. Add in the usual delays and long walks that commercial air travel requires and the total time may be close to having driven from home to destination – and that is with an excellent road and air network! Regional travel, even in the USA with its plethora of ‘air-tro-tro’ nodal connections simply is not comparable to ‘self-fly’ transportation when you want to get from ‘where you are to where you want to be’ in the most effective manner, especially if your departure and/or destination is a rural location.

Should we establish a functional network of rural airfields in our part of the world the benefits would be orders of magnitude more effective than the above example. Having travelled on our roads, in the rural areas of the territory, where twenty kilometres per hour is still a bone-shaker of a ride, and with the Lake Volta imposing its routing dilemmas on many a South-North and East-West routing, the benefits of point-to-point flexible self-fly travel are so much greater in Ghana than on the continent of North America which has shown us economic inclusivity across its varied and access challenged landscape.

This week has demonstrated conclusively that accessibility in a timely and ‘self-controlled’ manner is key to socio-economic development of the ‘less easily accessed’ parts of the world. It has also demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt that communities who invested in the basic infrastructure of a reserved area for air-access have become hubs of activity. The little airport in Mexico Missouri is surrounded by business developments – simply due to increased accessibility.

I can already hear the naysayers talking about how expensive flying is. However, it is not as expensive as portrayed, and aircraft ownership and personal piloting is within the reach of many in our country – especially the up and coming business community. In the same way that ‘personal car ownership’ was once seen as ‘unlikely at best’, it is clear that the ‘leaders of the pack’ who grasp the current ‘accessibility solution’ of aviation as a practical tool for development will have the edge. For this to work, we need to also ensure that government policies and our Aviation Authorities stimulate the market sustainably, without unnecessary barriers, based on best practice and appropriate regulations for the needs of all – and a realisation that even the smallest community that ‘invests in itself’ is taking a burden off of the state, and should be encouraged through a positive stance in a supportive, developmentally aware manner.

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

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Photo of the week, August 3rd

'This sky-writing smiley face hung in the air for several minutes before dissipating.  Applications for sky-writing in Ghana are many, and appear to have great potential.  Beyond the smiley face and 'marry me' smoke signals that are popular in the USA, there is potential to explore 'flood warnings' and other alert systems using coloured smoke in areas where communications and literacy are a challenge.  This image is 100% original and shows the cloud image produced by a light aircraft flying with a smoke system, taking about four minutes to execute.  Have a smile filled week and remember that the sky's the limit for those with imagination!  Photo taken at Oshkosh Air Venture 2011.

Monday, August 1, 2011

August 1, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

The noise was so great that it shook my chest and I felt my intestines vibrate.  My fingers jabbed at the side of my head as I sought to block my ears, as a protective measure, more quickly than the invisible pilot above me could turn his aircraft around.  The trail of smoke drifting past me was being left by a FA18 fighter jet roaring through the sky at speeds as close to the speed as sound, without bursting all the glass in the windows below, as he was allowed.  Low pressure induced condensation formed instantly above the wings as the aircraft pulled a ‘g’ or two more!  I stood amongst an international medley of tens of thousands of people, all looking up at the mighty bird that was punctuating the mid-afternoon sky above the sleepy town of Oshkosh, an inaudible yet clearly unified wave of awe, admiration and excitement rippled across the ensemble and back again repeatedly, as if a massive Newton’s cradle of hanging aviators jaws had been activated by the passage of the jet.   

Earlier that day the sky had been filled with dozens of aircraft flying in formation, simultaneously, at different altitudes, in different directions and patterns, mainly without any radio contact – in fact the Federal Aviation Authority Air Traffic Controllers stood down and handed over the air space to the ‘Airboss’, the name for the fellow on the edge of the runway area, monitoring and co-ordinating activities from the prime position.

I have been to many air shows and I have witnessed many displays, but when you see a dozen aircraft flying a circular pattern being criss-crossed by at least six groups of aircraft in formation – and all flown by enthusiasts, just to promote their passion – it has so much emotion, so much power and such an impression, many are reduced to the mental state of a five year old in ‘Ye Olde Sweet Shop’ – their eyes and minds darting from one sight of sweet pleasure to another!

I did some quick math.  In the air above this small town of around seventy thousand people there were more aircraft, in number, flying simultaneously above the visitor burgeoned airfield, than actually exist in most West African countries – perhaps of several of them added together.  Rumours were running around about the number of aircraft on the field, often with a tent under their wing inhabited by groups of aviation pilgrims, but it is certain that around ten thousand visiting aircraft was a reasonable estimate – more aircraft than many developed nations enjoy – and several times the combined aircraft head-count in the West African sub-region. 

All but a tiny percentage of these aircraft parked on the grassy areas around the airfield for the week long ‘EAA Air Venture Air Show’ are privately owned.  Some are ‘one of a kind’ aircraft designed and built for one reason only ; ‘to prove it can be done’.  The United States Federal Aviation Authority encourages these developments and, as was put to me by one official, chatting without his eyes meeting mine since we were tracking the aircraft display overhead, ‘this is the grass roots of aviation’. 

What are the ‘roots of’ anything?  They are the generally the part of a plant that get overlooked, yet they are also the anchor that holds the structure firm, provides the access to nutrients and water to keep the loftier and more visible aspects of the plant or tree sustained.  The whole word ‘roots’ bounced around my head, doing its loops and rolls, hammerheads and inverted flight between those little grey cells that were getting more ‘aviation stimulation’ than ever before. 

The roots of aviation is not airliners, nor is it military aviation, and it certainly is not corporate jets!  No, the roots of aviation lie in individuals with a vision and a passion, with dedication and determination.  The roots of aviation lie in the contact and time spent with the young people, those ‘developing cells’ of the future growth of the industry. 
Standing next to a bright yellow two seat aircraft at the edge of the Zenith Aircraft Company’s open air booth, where the Ghana contingent were being hosted, I could see a small playground for children – about ten little airplanes that toddlers could sit in.  Beyond that there was an entire building full of adults asking high school children about their ‘science projects’ that had aviation and technology components in them.  Past that area the open air workshops covering more than an acre of land, filled with ‘father and grandfather, mother and grandmother figures’ spending the day, gladly passing on their skills in welding, sheet-metal, woodwork, fabric coverings, engine installations and more – folks giving their time and energy to share their passion, no other reward than the smile of the individuals in that group. 

Accompanied by two young African pilots, one from Ghana and another from Angola, I could see that this infectious enthusiasm was spreading in their system.  Both of these twenty-something aviatrixes were ready to get on an airliner and head back to the continent to share their passion – both of them the flowers on the branches of the aviation community, nourished and sustained by those at the roots level of the industry. 

Chris Heintz, aircraft designer, pilot and legend of light aviation, sat on the grass nearby, leaning against a trailer, eyes tracking the aerial passers-by.  He chatted happily with the senior officials about the aircraft, designs and techniques of flight of his designs. Then, he chatted, and shared with more enthusiasm, to the younger people.  Last week, at his ‘honour banquet’ where a marquee was filled to overflowing with hundreds of owners of Chris’s aircraft designs turned to flying angels, some built from scratch, some from kit parts and some purchased complete, this ‘aviation root builder and stimulator of growth’ spoke about how he started out, sharing his ideas that provided the sustainable access to aviation for thousands across the world, including Ghana. 

As the meal came to a close, a young Ghanaian woman was invited to the high table and presented Chris Heintz with a painting from Ghana, hugging the man who had made aircraft building a reality for her, thanking him for the designs and encouragement that lay behind the aircraft now used in her home country to touch the lives of hundreds of young people.  The whole crowd aware that Ghana had become a part of the root system in a new and sustainable manner, and that the aviation family had a new branch.

This energy is infectious, contagious beyond comprehension shared across the Atlantic by those who understand that the real engine of growth is support, encouragement and shared enthusiasm from all involved – from officialdom to ‘future pilots’.

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