Monday, September 3, 2012

September 3rd, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

It is hard to believe that, as a child, I watched the first man walk on the moon, whilst sitting in my flannelette pyjamas. The coverage was ‘almost live’, in full mind-blowing Black and White, scratchy, fuzzy and hard to hear TV– the best my world had to offer in July 1969! I thank my parents for letting me watch that moment, because it really has meant a lot to me over the years – it is my first proper memory of my childhood. It is, therefore, with great sadness, that we see the man who set the fires of ambition into a world of young ‘1960’s people’, ‘exit stage left’ last week. Neil Armstrong, the man who first set foot on our orbiting grey rock, finally cashed in his ‘one-way-ticket-off-planet’, the one that we all have to use one day, and is off to meet our maker. This famous astronaut never publically declared his religion, but did declare his firm belief in a creator.

The Armstrong family made a statement in response to the many requests for ‘what can they do?’, it states: ‘For those who may ask what they can do to honour Neil, we have a simple request. Honour his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink’.

I admit that I have winked at the moon many times this week, as I have looked up at it, thinking through the effects that ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’ has had on my life and ambitions.

Neil Armstrong’s early exposure to aircraft clearly helped to inspire him, and he went on to inspire the world, me included.

Interestingly, one of Armstrong’s first flight exposures was in a Ford aircraft (yes, Ford, as in the motor company, used to make planes!). We are told that he was given toy aeroplanes as early as three years of age, probably by aviation inspired family members! Then, around five years old he, reportedly, was taken as a passenger in a Ford Tri-Motor. The Tri-Motor is amazingly SLOW. I was watching one flying just last month, giving joy rides to paying guests in the USA. The drone of the three propellers, biting at the air, hits your ears, and you turn to see the lumbering giant wallowing into the air, seemingly suspended by a string, as it slowly turns away and makes it shallow climb.

As he grew up his passion for aviation was strong enough for him to take a job helping in a shop, near his home, in Wapakoneta, USA, in order to save up for some introductory flying lessons, at the age of fifteen! Those early lessons were in a small aircraft called an Aeronca Champ, a simple two seat aircraft with a single, sixty-five horse power engine. He must have demonstrated a great deal of skill, since, at the age of 16 (in order to gain hours towards his licence), he would volunteer to fly-off post overhaul hours on whatever aircraft they would let him fly!

Later, joining the Navy, he learned to pilot over two hundred different types of aircraft - propeller, rocket and jet powered! He was only thirty eight years old when he manually flew and landed the ‘Eagle Spacecraft’ onto the surface of the moon!

Only twelve people (all men) have walked on the moon. But if I ask you to name them, I am sure that apart from Neil Armstrong, and perhaps Buzz Aldrin, the rest would be a challenge. I have had to look the others up. Here they are; Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, Alan Shephard, Edgar Mitchell, David Scott, James Irwin, John W Young, Charles Duke, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt. I only remembered a few of those names – and some, I am sure, I never heard of before, but I will try to remember them all – for they have all taken steps that have shaped our future on the blue planet called Earth.

Interestingly, being an astronaut does not really use any of the practical skills we learn in flying – yet all of the people chosen as astronauts were pilots! All of them started by taking a flight in a small plane, and then ended up leaving our atmosphere, landing on the nearest rock and walking on it… AMAZING.

That first flight in a small plane has changed so many lives, and inspired so many others… Learning to fly is a demonstration of ability – and ability to change, as well as to learn to operate outside the 2D terrestrially-bound axis.

All of us have potential to change lives, it is there in your hands, in the decisions you make each day. What did you do today that could inspire another? It is not necessary to walk on the moon to create that inspiration.

As a pilot, working with a group of organisations that share the motto ‘Changing lives, one flight at a time…’, I enjoy the daily opportunity to inspire – and know that what I do has inspired many, most of whom I have not had the privilege of meeting in person… I am pleased to see that opportunity that I enjoy, being made available, to the right person, with a new and exciting job opening at Kpong Airfield.

Medicine on the Move, in conjunction with WAASPS, is currently recruiting a nurse. The nurse must be recently qualified, interested in public health matters, prepared to learn to fly, change engine oil, use a spanner and drill as readily as a haemostat and a field dressing! The successful candidate will use their new skills in aircraft on aerial supply runs of health education, as well as planned landings with float planes on the Lake Volta, sharing life changing knowledge and helping to prevent diseases. Also, directing those with urgent needs to the appropriate support services at regional hospitals and clinics. Based out of Kpong Field, in the soon to be opened Mini-Clinic, the successful candidate will have the opportunity to inspire and to change lives, and to bring about a change in attitude – quite possible, very far reaching.

If you know of a suitable candidate, get them to write to me at

In the meantime, I strongly suggest that you take a trip outside on a clear night with your children, friends, partner or colleagues, look up at the moon, share the story of Neil Armstrong, and then, all of you, give a wink to the moon. Perhaps it will be the beginning of a new adventure… only time will tell!

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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