Monday, June 4, 2012

June 4th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

We are told in our history lessons that ‘democracy was born in Ancient Greece’, and looking at today’s economics of the Euro, modern Greece is now giving it a good run for its money!

Greek mythology has some wonderful stories, and some with an aviation theme. The story of Daedalus, and his son Icarus, is one that always makes me smile – despite its scientific errors. For those who do not know the story, here is ‘Captain Yaw’s Paraphrased version for West Africa’:

‘Kojo, a talented artisan was asked by an important Chief to build a special prison, for a monster that tormented the people. One day the Chief used that same prison to incarcerate his own daughter. Kojo, helped the Chiefs daughter, Ama, to stage an escape, which really cheesed off the Chief. Kojo was arrested and then imprisoned in his own construction, along with his son Kwame, as the ultimate punishment.

Kojo knew that it was near impossible to escape from the prison without help on the outside, but he did not give up hope. Being a talented person, Kojo kept all the wax from his prison cell candles, and also collected feathers falling from the birds sitting on the prison wall. Over many months he created two pairs of wings, one for him and one for his son, to enable them to fly out of the prison.

Before leaping into the air first, Kojo warned Kwame not to fly too close to the sun, for it would melt the wax. Kojo flapped his feather laden arms and took off, flying low and slow towards a safe haven. Meanwhile, Kwame, his head filled with the excitement of flight, forgot the wise words and chose to fly higher and higher. Squealing with the delight of his new altitude, he failed to notice the wax melting and feathers falling, until, eventually, he plunged to his death beating his naked arms in an attempt to remain aloft.’

What a wonderful story, even if man cannot flap wings enough to fly, and the fact is, the higher you go the colder it gets! In fact, the air temperature reduces about 2C for every thousand feet you move upwards (then it stabilises at around -50C).

The original story is possibly based on some sort of fact, and there needed to be an explanation as to how the prisoners escaped, and that one was found dead near the prison, his head buried in the mud as if he had fallen out of the sky!

All the same, there is much to be learned from such an aviation story. The principle of taking heed of warnings. The principle of consequences, dire ones at that, for flying outside the design envelope. Perhaps the greatest lesson is ‘don’t build prisons for others that could be used for you!’

Another Greek Myth that chips away at my mind on regular basis, is that of Damocles Sword. Again, I prefer to use our local names, and some poetic licence, to get the story across.

‘The Nananom of a great tribe had a faithful servant, Kwabena. Kwabena was always proud to serve under his Nananom. One day, Kwabena told his Chief ‘You are so lucky to be in such a position, with so many things and people following you!’ The Chief asked, his head tilted to one side, ‘Would like my stool?’ Without hesitation, Kwabena nodding profusely accepted the offer.

At once Kwabena sat upon the Chief’s stool, and he was happy – for about five seconds. On the sixth second in ‘office’ he looked up, and there he saw a large, very sharp, ceremonial sword hanging above his head – held up by a single human hair.

Terrified, Kwabena called to the Chief, who was quickly walking away with a smile on his face. Turning around the chief said with a wry smile, ‘Be careful what you wish for, power and greatness always comes with a price and is more fragile than an egg.’

Envy of others is rarely justified if ALL the facts are known. There is no such thing as a ‘perfect place’, and it is certainly true that the more ‘benefits perceived’ are linked to ‘challenges, risks and dangers unseen’.

In both of these myths, the need for prudence is clear, as is the need to understand the hidden dangers.

In today’s economy and point in the political cycle, the metaphorical Sword of Damocles that resides above the head of every leader of enterprise, political leader or pretty much any other position, appears to sway in the wind, the hair holding it up appearing, every day, less secure.

Likewise, at these times the faithful servants appear to want more and more to hold the esteemed positions, generally not asking, but rather scheming towards their goal.

Would it not be fantastic to be able to ‘try out’ another position, to see the type of Sword of Damocles that sways above another’s head? Of course it would, but it would also prevent anybody ever starting a business or entering politics. Needless to say, if we could peek ahead at the risks and challenges of parenthood, the need for birth control promotion would be defunct as well!

Right now I am gearing up for a test flight, and I am really looking forward to it. Others say ‘are you scared when you fly a new aircraft for the first time?’ The temptation is to say ‘Go ahead, try it. Find out for yourself!’, but that would not be prudent – the aircraft may get damaged!

My Swords of Damocles (for I seem to have many) sit above my head, and I love them all. I look to them, study them and try to understand them. I embrace the challenges and dangers in my work. Admittedly there are times when it is wearisome, but I must say that, for me, I have the most enviable job in the world. There is no money. No power. But a magnificent sense of achievement daily. I guess that makes any Sword OK, because it is the one I have chosen and fully accepted its fragile tenure above my head. I wonder if those seeking the stool of others have understood the dangers hidden above that await their sixth second on the stool to be noticed!

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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