Monday, March 26, 2012

March 26th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Ask a pilot ‘When did you first fly in the cockpit of an aircraft?’ and, for the most part, you will witness the biggest smile on their face, and light in their eyes, as they recount a memory that triggered something deep inside of them. It may have lay dormant for a while in some, but in the vast majority it burst into life with the energy of a supernova, exploding in their depths, triggered by the voluntary, controlled and sensation-rich removal from contact with terra-firma!

Ask them the registration of that aircraft and they will trip it off their tongues, as if it were yesterday! G-AWUN was the registration of mine. It was a Sunday afternoon. It was almost magical. Actually, I think it was almost spiritual. OK, it was so totally amazing. In fact, nearly a quarter of a century later, the emotion of the memory grabs me and flows through me as if it were yesterday. I sat there, looking out the front, seeing the world in a new way. A way that looking out the side window of an airliner can never simulate nor stimulate. It changed me. It energised me. It was a defining moment in my life. It is a treasured, oft visited, memory. In fact it has been a part of my thinking ever since. That was in 1988. However, I did not start working full-time with aircraft until 2006! Making the change to work full-time with aircraft resulted in a major cut in earnings, but that matters not – for I have the disease called ‘aviation-itis’. I have a full blown case of it. Those who hang around me may find that they catch it and spread it too, if they are lucky.

In fact, I must admit to actively exposing others, and hope to infect as many as possible with full-blown aviation-itis. Fortunately, for me, and those who I get to fly, I have some wonderful opportunities to spread the infection – and some outstandingly willing subjects!

Working in the Humanitarian Aviation arena, I am honoured to be a part of the annual ‘Fly Me Day’ run by Medicine on the Move. Children from the rural villages are brought to the airfield and given a circuit in the cockpit of a built-in-Ghana aircraft. The selected children line-up, they wait their turns and then the step into the cockpit. They participate from the pointy-end, with all the knobs and whistles, in a circuit of discovery. Launched into the air by just eighty horses, all bridled together in a four-cylinder, lightweight aircraft engine from the Rotax Aircraft Engine plant in Austria. All these eighty horses need to eat is some good quality Super motor car fuel (we use Total Effimax Super), and some appropriate automotive engine oil (we use Shell Helix). These engines love to run in the heat of Ghana, and to fill the African sky with young people who yearn to achieve more. Their wish is our desire, and together we transform aspiration into reality.

With a cast of marshals, pilots, first-aid personnel, health educators, photographers and other helpers, the show ground at Kpong was already teeming with life by 06:15. Four aircraft, all built in Ghana and two of them flown by trained in Ghana, Ghanaian pilots, seemingly lined up to commence the West African equivalent of a ‘re-enactment of the Berlin Airlift’.

Seconds after each of the four-at-a-time first-time flyers were strapped in, the four planes took off in a line. The volunteer pilots flew each aspirant out on a large circuit and back to land – all four planes landing, and rolling-out directly to their take off positions. I flew the fourth aircraft and got to watch the take-offs and landings keenly – especially since I had to land in less than 150m each time, as the final plane to land, shutting down the engine as I rolled out a few metres behind the tail of the third aircraft.

This event was sponsored by WAASPS, Pemberton Aerosports and Millward Brown the ‘brand specialists’. The support from the relatively new player to Ghana in the brand arena was welcome, and I must say that the presence of their MD on the flight line encouraging the children and interacting with them, with his own children by his side was spectacular. Conjure up this image with me for a moment… the MD of a major international company running around in the heat of the day, accompanied by his wife and kids, sharing the moment of discovery, and making it all the more special. We also had senior staff from the oil, mining, construction, hospitality and other industries come along and lend very active hands (one bringing gifts for all the children too!). It is a wonderful part of the Light Aviation movement in Ghana, that we are able to join hands in sharing the joy of flight, regardless of socio-economic background, regardless of colour, creed or gender, regardless of language or physical ability/disability.

Aviation is for everybody. We can all share it. After all it is the second most popular outdoor spectator sport in the UK, after football! For me the pleasure lies in the faces of the participants on a day like ‘Fly Me Day’. As one helper on the day wrote on the Medicine on the Move blog site ‘It was great to see all the students lining up to take their turns in the cockpit. All well behaved and with slightly serious faces reflecting the trepidation they must have felt. Totally natural bearing in mind that they were about to experience something that the vast majority of the world never will. The face on the students after they had landed was fantastic. I never realised you could get so many teeth in one head.’

Another wrote, ‘ After the flight in the fleet of airplanes flying around the circuit in a precisely coordinated formation, and as the kids were led back from the runway by the ever-efficient and highly disciplined girls from the AvTech Academy, one could clearly see the excitement, joy and spontaneous smiles on their young faces. For most of them, coming from the neighbouring rural communities, it must have been the highlight of their lives so far, and this adventure of flying will not be forgotten for a long time to come.’

It is clear that the visiting helpers took away amazingly pleasurable memories, from sharing the pleasure and energising those who otherwise may never get a chance to experience such a moment, and will also talk about their participation in Fly Me Day for a long time to come too!

When did you and your children last share a moment of discovery that transcended the boundaries of socio-economic variations? If you do not have a moment bursting out of your memories right now, in full vibrancy, then it is time for you to seek out that moment again… if you have never done such a thing – work out how to make it happen. I am fortunate enough to work in an environment where it is a weekly, if not daily, experience – and it energises my whole being. Go. Seek. Do. Without delay. It will change you, your children and your outlook, for the better!

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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