Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
In 1962 a group of young and enthusiastic Ghanaians were sent on an Air Cadet Exchange programme, to discover aviation, on a German island called Juist, just off of the North Coast of the industrial nation. This was all part of the beginning of the first black African flying school to be opened at Afienya, in the same year.
Fifty years on, one German and one Ghanaian are undertaking an adventure to remember the past and celebrate the future – they have named the adventure ‘Ghana-Juist 1962’. The adventure started last Friday morning and by today Joerg Bohn and George Manu should be on their way across the Sahara in a single engine, propeller powered aircraft, and hope to complete their voyage in just under one week.
As part of the adventure, Joerg and George would like to find some of the 1962 Juist students, who could well now be in their 70s or 80s! We do not have the surnames of the young men sent to Germany on the International Air Cadet Exchange, but do know their first names – Solomon, Ben, Emanuel, Ernest, John, Sayibu and Francis. If you are one of these folks, or know them, please drop me a line at my e-mail listed below, and, if possible, we will try to link them up with the team when they arrive later this week.
However, this is not just about the past, for the past is only a platform upon which we can build the future. George, a Ghanaian pilot who learned to fly in the UK a few years back, and now flies built in Ghana aircraft from Kpong Airfield, has added a twist to their adventure.
Whilst flying at Kpong, George has been impressed by the efforts of Lydia Wetsi, the disabled student pilot, and the other girls who are learning there – and wants to raise awareness of the need of them and their humanitarian outreach through aerial supply drops of health education materials.
When we think of the great adventurers such as Sir Edmund Hilary (conquering mountains), Antoine de Saint-Exupery (flying the West African coast postal routes), Sir Alan Cobham (circumnavigating Africa in a seaplane), Amelia Earhart (flying exploits), Felix Baumgartner (free fall from space, exceeding 1,000kph), and others, we rarely consider exactly what ‘an adventure’ is.
The dictionary tells us that an adventure is an ‘exciting or unusual experience, often a bold, risky undertaking with an uncertain outcome’. Perhaps, especially for many in Ghana, we can consider that life is an adventure, but here we are looking at stepping outside of that day-to-day routine, and embarking on an adventure for self-realisation, feat-accomplishment as well as demonstration of the ability to achieve. Adventures are life changing experiences – and give us great tales to share, inspire and motivate others with. Interestingly, the thesaurus adds some flavour with terms such as ‘exploit, quest, exploration’ and the rather dull ‘exciting activity’.
When we look at the list of ‘adventurers’, the ‘Ghanaian adventurer’ appears to be a rare breed. Perhaps, we fail to recognise the adventures of our own people. Clearly, the dynamic young men who went to Juist in 1962 were adventurers, and George Manu is certainly an adventurer! Flying across Europe, the Sahara and into Ghana is no mean feat – especially in an aircraft such as the Roschmeir R90.
I asked George a bit about this trip and the plane: ‘Our flight is due to commence on 20 October 2012 and should last 6 days, with refuelling and overnight stops in France, Spain, Morocco, Senegal and Liberia, before eventually landing in Ghana on or about 26 October. The aircraft we will be flying, which belongs to Joerg, is a Ruschmeyer R 90 – a single engine piston, 4-seater plane with retractable gear. Built in Germany, only 29 of these planes were produced, of which 27 are still in service today.’ He went on to say ‘I have been very impressed by the way our young Ghanaians are learning to fly, and operate a small airfield, and especially by the young Lydia, a disabled student’, George gave a big smile, as is his trademark, and added ‘We want to help Lydia, in the same way the Ghanaians sent to Juist 50 years ago were helped, I want this adventure to change peoples lives positively.’ (Lydia, who is now two years into a four year aviation programme, will be going to Germany next year for work on her disabled hand).
All adventures need careful planning, and these two have worked hard over recent months, both in training and in planning – gaining approvals from each country to overfly and where appropriate to land. George has made the effort to visit some of the countries they are passing through to better understand the challenges and solutions that they can implement. The plane they are flying requires 100LL fuel, and they are working to ensure that each and every stop has sufficient fuel available to them, a small matter, but one that could scupper the adventure if not taken seriously! Success lies in the details on an adventure like this!
For George this is a massive adventure, being a relatively low-hours pilot, and never having flown such a long distance at the controls before – in fact this is many, many times further than he has ever flown before. Nonetheless, he is ready both physically and psychologically. Furthermore, he has chosen an excellent co-adventurer to embark this momentous trip with. Joerg is a former Lufthansa Boeing 737/747 pilot and also an instructor for the Juist training programmes that continue today! Joerg is also an ice-boat racer – and appears to have a taste for constant adventure when you listen to him. Joerg is also bitten by the progress in light aviation in Ghana and hopes to bring more adventures for Ghanaians to fruition as part of this exploit.
We all wish George and Joerg a safe trip, and hope that they will bring us some great stories of the challenges as they fly, deal with the different airports and overcome the difficulties that any adventure will undoubtedly throw at them!
There will be regular updates of their travels at http://medicineonthemove.blogspot.com/ for those who would like to track this adventure!
Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics (www.waasps.com www.medicineonthemove.org e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org)