Monday, August 6, 2012

August 6th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Taking two young ladies to the largest air show in the world carries a lot of challenges, mainly that they have so much energy! Watching how aviation is absorbed in the same fashion as sponge that has been sitting in the sun for a few days absorbs water.

Of course, the air show is fun, the displays of aircraft tossing about in the air; meeting the display pilots; sitting front row in the performers area for the re-enactment of Pearl Harbour ‘Tora Tora Tora’, with tens of Mitsubishi Zeros circling and making simulated bombing runs, accompanied by pyro-technics that released fire-balls several meters into the air; watching one of the last flying WWII bombers ‘role play’ the atomic-bombing of Hiroshima, and remembering the massive losses on all sides in the last World War; witnessing the last few living legends, including the Tuskegee airmen, flip and turn alongside the latest and greatest aircraft on the planet. The kaleidoscope of colours, sounds and smells were on a scale that few could ever imagine. From single-seat display aircraft swirling in their own display smoke, through the major war-bird fly pasts, topped off with the C17 Globemaster and the F18 Hornet fighter roar, climbing vertically for thousands of feet, there was not a single moment in the seven days of the event that was anything approaching ‘boring’. Airplanes really do have their own life, and are accompanied by a worldwide, tight-knit, family of aero-centrics. Of course, it was not all ‘fun’, this is a working air show, and much business was done, including procurement of tools and parts, strengthening and finding synergies and making new contacts in the aviation world.

The highlight of the show, for me, was watching our Ghanaian ‘light aircraft ladies’ talk about the Rotax 912 iS engine on ‘Engine Day’. Barely released to the world, and with only a dozen aircraft flying with the ultra-modern engine worldwide, it was impressive to watch them answer questions about its installation, operation and features. Having installed the first 912iS engine in Africa, and been amongst the first few in the world to fly with it, these able and intelligent ambassadors spoke eloquently to aircraft builders, the press and general public, adapting their answers and content to their audience magnificently. Ghana has much to be proud of in its light aviation developments, and it truly is something that is recognised at all levels of the industry.

Even though the air show was stunning, it paled in significance to the sight that I enjoyed just a few days later. These two Ghanaians, smiling and relaxed around all that flies (especially around the tools and materials of aircraft building) were invited to the Zenith Aircraft Company factory in Missouri. The welcome was magnificent, and after the factory tour, as I stood chatting to the engineer working on major repairs to a storm damaged CH750 two seat STOL aircraft, they both melted into the workforce, without a request or order. Both picked up brooms and started to clear the floor area of rivet stems, ensuring that the work area was impeccable, just as they do at home. Then, picking up cleco-pliers and air-drills they requested safety glasses and lent a hand on the airframe works. Within minutes they had gained full respect from the factory team, working with time served factory specialists, barely an instruction passing between them.

Teenage Lydia, a disabled student pilot/engineer, barely two years into her four year training, lay on her back positioning the #20 drill bit perfectly in position, controlling the drill with the dexterity of a surgeon, working as a cog in a well-oiled machine.

Later, after removal, de-burring and corrosion treatment of a worked replacement fuselage longeron, it was repositioned, and the duo set back to work with the riveting, ensuring that each and every rivet sat perfectly. Working the clecos, working the rivets, working the skins and moving the damaged metal-bird’s frame one step closer to returning to the air.

After some meetings, I returned to the factory floor, and was met by grins and heads held high, by all concerned. The compliments fell into two categories; firstly that regarding their ability to work, without instruction, swiftly, accurately and effectively; secondly, specifically to Patricia Mawuli, a founder of the AvTech Academy at Kpong, as an instructor. ‘She is a natural teacher’ came the comment ‘she explains everything, and makes sure that everybody understands. She can’t help teaching!’

This latter comment caught me off guard, making me wonder if she had ‘lectured’ the factory staff. Instead I learned that she had been giving instruction to a young man who had never worked on airframes before, and had transmitted her knowledge in a clear and effective manner, gaining respect from experts many years her senior.

Being able to share my knowledge with these young people has been, and will be, I hope, for many years to come, a priceless pleasure. I cannot begin to express my admiration for them; I watched these girls integrate internationally, fitting into established teams at facilities of high repute, yet retaining their personalities without arrogance, modestly demonstrating that the ‘African Woman’ can shine brightly in a traditionally male field, and command respect without even thinking about trying to!

Meanwhile, in the Brong Ahafo region, two other young women have been working at leading developments at Techiman Airfield. I received a text stating ‘we have completed work on the runways’. From the same class as Lydia, Emmanuella and Juliet have been working on applying their knowledge in airfield development and management at the small grass strip close to the largest market town in West Africa. Transforming bush-lands into new facilities that will enable growth and stimulate interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), as all aviation does. Furthermore, they have been speaking to young people about their passion for aviation in local schools. In the coming months these girls will get to witness their work on a piece of bush-land transformed into an aviation portal, as aircraft begin regular operations at this central point of our nation.

Of course, as a machine needs fed fresh materials to process, in the same way a training programme needs fresh blood to instruct and develop. In the next few weeks four more young women will begin their training at Kpong, all from Kete Krachi. These rural youngsters will be taking their first steps in the shadow of those who are already on their journey of aviation discovery, and they will have to work hard, following the lead of their sisters. Together, working towards careers in light aviation, with a strong emphasis on health and humanitarian related aviation.

I hope that next year’s economy will enable the return to skies at Kpong of annual air shows, and that these young, able, pleasant and competent ladies will be able to demonstrate publically their abilities in the workshops and in the skies of West Africa.

We have so much in front of us, so many opportunities and we must thank those who have sponsored, supported and given encouragement in the training and development of Ghana’s Angels of the Factory and Sky.

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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