Monday, January 30, 2012

January 30th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

What is an ISA? No, it is not an Independent Savings Account (well it could be, but not in this column!). We are concerned with the International Standard Atmosphere, or more specifically the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation’s) version of it.

It is a lie. A blatant, misleading ‘standards’ lie. The ISA is hypothetical and probably has never really existed for more than a nano-second or two, yet the ISA is the basis on which much of aviation and meteorology is based. For the record, it states that the ‘Standard’ atmospheric condition is one where, at mean sea level, the temperature is 15 Celsius, the atmospheric pressure is 1013.25 milli-bars or Hecto-Pascal’s (same pressure measurement units, different names), one cubic meter of air has a mass of 1.225 kilogrammes and for every kilometre you ascend from the surface the temperature will drop by 6.5 Celsius, or in other words 1.98 Celsius drop per thousand feet ascended. Oh, and it assumes that one hecto-Pascal difference equates to a change in altitude of about 27 feet at sea level… Who cares? YOU should!

You see, it is the ‘basis’ of calculation, albeit purely hypothetical. So many instruments are ‘calibrated’ to this mythical ISA, which only exists in the mind of a man (or woman), in a white coat, in some lab somewhere. Furthermore, the rate of change of temperature changes as you move up through the atmosphere, as does the height represented by each Hecto-Pascal or milli-bar change.

It was decided, by some really smart people at ICAO, that all aircraft should ‘measure’ their height, speed, performance estimates, etc. against this ‘standard’. It means that all the altimeters (should) read the same in a particular ‘space’ (but none are really telling the truth); it means that all the airspeed indicators have the same error in the same air (unless they are True Airspeed Instruments which adjust for temperature and pressure). It also means that, despite kicking off from a hypothetical atmospheric lie, we are all calibrated to that same lie, making us safer.

A bit heavy? Wait a minute…. There is reason to ‘fly the lie’. The ‘lie’ is close enough to the truth to make sense, and for most situations we can make informed decisions that are close enough to the reality to remain safe. Without it we would probably make more mistakes and have more accidents – and the work of the Air Traffic Controller would be one of more guesswork than science!

Terrible isn’t it? Our aviation safety is based on ‘a statement of fact’ that is clearly not the case. But we need it – and we must ALL accept it or we are in trouble up there!

You have lived this same sort of lie all of your life. ‘There are 365 days in a year and 24 hours in a day’. Poppycock, and we prove it to be poppycock every 4 years… when we have a leap year, recognition that the year is actually 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds long. If we did not have leap years we would have shifting seasons – as the year ‘shifted’ one point diddly days every four years. Our calendar dates back a long way (to about 46BC and the time of Julius Ceasar – hence the ‘Julian’ Calendar), and we have fiddled with it a lot. The original concept of a leap year every four years worked great until 1582 AD, when the Pope (Gregory XIII) decided that the accumulated error, of nearly 13 days, had to be stopped … The Pope decreed that all years perfectly divisible by 4 were to be ‘leap years’ … except for century years which normally would not be a leap year, unless divisible by 400.

Yes, it does sound complicated, and why the Pope got involved is beyond me too! What it boils down to, is that we are all being ‘sort of lied to’, in one way or the other, every day, and we need to accept certain ‘lies’ and base our planning and forecasts on a ‘common lie’. You see, today is not really today, if we correct the calendar… but since we are all working from the same ‘reference point’ and using the same ‘rules’ we are able to use the situation to work together.

The questions have to be asked a) ‘is there any harm in the ‘lie’?’; b) ‘who is benefiting from the lie?’; c) ‘is the real truth going to change anything?’; d) ‘is there a better way?’; and most importantly e) does everybody agree to the ‘lie’?’. If the answers are NO, NOBODY, NO, NO and YES, then it appears to work.

Of course, if you need to ‘lie’, and it really is necessary, you can change the facts to make your ‘lie’ the truth… and that has been done too! Until the first of July 1959 the inch was not a standard measurement – it varied from country to country, and it did not enjoy a direct relationship to the internationally standardised Metric measures. So, the US and the Commonwealth got together and they actually changed the measurement of the inch! Standards people decided that one inch would equate to exactly 25.4mm. Why the proposal for a 1inch = 25mm concept was not accepted has been a burden to school children, designers and seamstresses around the world ever since. (By the way there are still at least three different measurements for the ‘foot’ going around!)

We all use numbers to represent things. How tall are you? How old are you? What is your collar size? What is your weight? How far do you live from here? The answers are all numbers – none of which make sense without a UNIT of measure. Unless we can all agree on the units, and the basis on which they are referenced, we are simply talking gobbledygook to each other.

I remember being told by a policeman, at the scene of an accident, that the road was twelve wide. I asked ”twelve what?”, to be told “inches!”. Of course, it was a ‘tip of the tongue answer’ but one that could have created a major issue in the courts – since there are not any cars that can fit onto a twelve inch wide road! Common sense prevailed and the measure was taken as metres. Much more sensible!

In industry we use millimetres and metres. In schools, for some totally unknown reason, they insist on teaching predominantly using ‘centimetres’ – a measurement that you will be hard pushed to find on any engineering drawing! It is actually a waste of brain cells to learn centimetres – millimetres and metres are so much more practical and common use! (For the record, I once ordered a 3m x 1m banner to be delivered a 3ft x 1ft banner – when I stopped shouting, I started laughing – a lot – then I understood, the ‘art studio’ only had an imperial measuring tape… my mistake…)

I guess the bottom line of all of this ‘hypothetically referenced numerical representation of our world’ is simple; we all need to be on the same page, using the same units and to ensure that we are all understanding one another, if not, mistakes and accidents will, and do, happen.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Photo of the week, January 25th

The unseasonal rains of the weekend may help to keep down the dust but also kiss some life back into the heavily blackened landscape that scars our nation. Bush fires continue to claim lands, homes and livelihoods. Here we can see how careful management of an area can prevent the bush fire damage. Kpong Airfield, in the Eastern Region, plans and prepares for the bush fires during the rainy season, and for the rains and the floods during the dry season. Such planning and preparation needs to become common place to reduce the disruption to lives and negative effects on socio-economic developments on a more wide-spread basis. Photo Courtesy WAASPS Ltd,

Monday, January 23, 2012

January 23rd, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Last we talked about ‘speed = security’ and ‘altitude = life insurance’, so this week, a little foray into ‘slow flight’ seems appropriate!

When learning to fly you are ‘obliged under the syllabus’ to ‘experience slow flight’ – normally we look to do at least three, ten minute slots of slow flight before the student is allowed to solo. Extra time is spent in this phase, usually ‘hidden away’ in another exercise, if the student needs it, until the student gains understanding and is suitably safe. Slow flight is the place you DO NOT want to be. The controls get ‘soft’ and ‘unresponsive’; the aircraft feels ‘lethargic’ and you are dangerously close to the stall. The stall is when the wing stops flying (because the speed of the air over the wing no longer generates lift as the air breaks away instead of flowing smoothly)… and you start descending – pretty fast if you do not do something about it! The idea of gaining some ‘flight experience’ in the ‘slow flight envelope’ is to make the student aware of the dangers, and to ensure that they really do not want to ‘go-slow’ in the air ever again! Most importantly, is that they learn to sense the warning signs, the change of feel and response that precedes a potential incident that can range from ‘mildly uncomfortable’ to ‘deadly’. Stalls are a major component of the accident statistics every year.

Slow flight is, of course, key to the ‘landing phase’ of flying. It is carried out remarkably close to the ground and in such a way that, when the wing stops flying the wheels touch the ground! I am recorded as saying ‘I never teach people to land a plane, only to fly a plane – the plane will land itself if you fly it well…’. The basis of this, is that, if you approach at a safe speed and bleed off the speed close to the ground, the aircraft will simply touch at the slowest possible speed – and it feels good! Although slow flight ‘away from the ground carries dangers, on displays, I can be seen to climb the CH701 at the edge of the slow flight envelope, often giving the impression of ‘ascendance’ rather than climbing – it is a deliberate and conscious moment, not taken lightly! Flight operation below the normal operations ‘safety speed’ is dangerous – but must be understood, and respected! Display pilots operate at the edges of the flight envelope, to show that it can be done, but normal operations should not even be near the seams of the designated limits of operations.

Sadly, in the bureaucratic world, around the world, there is little understanding of the damage done by ‘administrative slow flight’. Delayed responses – or often ‘non-responses’ to letters leads to frustration, and in many cases abandonment of projects. Perhaps every pen-pusher who sits too comfortably behind their desks should be ‘encouraged’ to try a lesson or two in a small plane, and to witness first-hand the dangers of slow or non-response, especially in the slow flight corner!

Just imagine, that the consequences of delays, ‘shelving’ and ‘filing in the round filing cabinet that sits under the desk’ could be made to create some warning signals? How about a stall warning buzzer on the desk? Or a stick-shaker attached to the desk leg – creating the effect of a mini-earthquake should unnecessary delays abound upon the horizontal working surface!?

Imagine, just for a moment, that, if all the ‘below safety speed of working’ folks got into the elevator, that the machine stalled and plummeted towards the ground floor unless they quickly responded and addressed all their ‘delays’ and ‘slowness’!

Imagine that. Now, stop laughing – because I am sure that you have been guilty of ‘slow flying’ a response or project… so you too could find yourself with a buzzing, shaking desk with a desire to descend to the ground floor post-haste!

I am left wondering whether the ‘slow-pen’ operators are just like display pilots, they are ‘demonstrating their ability to operate at the bottom end of the performance envelope’, just because they can? If, as I suspect it is, the ‘go-slow-bureaucracy’ is a demonstration of ‘strength’ and ‘skill’, then we need to look at the other end of the flight envelope demonstrated at air shows around the world.

After the ‘slow-pass’, hanging the plane off the stall, the aircraft returns to normal speed, climbs, turns and then does a ‘high-speed-pass’ - the one that feels as if it is pulling the hair off the heads of the spectators as it zooms past them and climbs towards the stratosphere! Wouldn’t it be nice to see some more of that from the ‘desks of lethargy’!

There are some excellent cases of change, one of which is the DVLA. The difference today to years gone by is as impressive as the high speed pass. I remember renewing my driving licence; less than 20minutes. Done. Easy. Amazing and confidence building.

Sadly, I know of other organisations that take months to handle a renewal, even after taking substantial renewal fees. This is not just limited to government institutions – so beware – your organisation may be languishing in the ‘slow-flight’ corner!

My own experience of ‘slow flight’ outside of bureaucratic zones is in construction. Those who follow my Twitter feed or the Medicine on the Move blogs will know that, since the second of January this year, I have been ‘cajoling’ masons into action.

Masons, the world over, appear to be genetically enabled to drag a project on and on and on. Slow flight that puts in jeopardy the lives of those who plan to use the building! The new building at Kpong Air Field is a combination building, accommodation, training and a mini-clinic. It is a key part in our outreach to the lake-dwellers in 2012. Consequently, I am ‘anxious’ to remain in the ‘cruise or faster’, and to stay well clear of the usual ‘slow-approach’ that cement-eaters are capable of!

I must say, that I am impressed and amused at the same time. When the construction team hit a target of production they are happier, more good natured and appear to have more energy. When they arrive late, linger and delay (flying slow) they have more complaints and sullen faces. Proof positive that ‘flying in the slow zone makes you grumpy’ and that ‘speed is equal to security of employment!’

Check your ‘air speed indicator’ and ensure that all of your projects are operating in the ‘green arc’ of operations! If not, remember, slow flight kills… it really does.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Photo of the week, January 18th

The Harmattan is very heavy this year, right across the country. Much as it hinders visibility, it is a time of additional challenges for many in rural Ghana. The dry soils, lack of grazing for animals, as well as the colder nights, cannot pass quickly enough for many. As you enjoy the different hues and beauty of the sunsets and sunrises at this time of year, remember how many are struggling to shine in the hinterlands. Photo Courtesy Medicine on the Move

Monday, January 16, 2012

January 16th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Speed = Security; Altitude = Life Insurance; the safety adage for those at the controls of an aircraft. Last year’s airbus disaster with Air France exemplified that even with a lot of altitude, if you lose control of the speed, disaster awaits, in large doses. May the many souls of those who have been lost by the lack of respect for these two facts, rest in peace, and may we all learn from their sad demise.

In aviation terms ‘SPEED’ is the thing that keeps you in the air – being in the correct range of it. Too much of it and your wings can, literally, come off. Too little of it and you will stop flying. The speed of the air over the wing is the key to ‘lift’, linked to the angle at which you ‘attack’ the airflow.

In the event of insufficient speed, you will lose altitude rapidly as your wing ‘stalls’. With enough height that can be a moment of heightened senses, with your visual cortex noting the rapid filling of the windshield with a view of the ground getting closer. Such a situation should be easily recovered by good airmanship and a return to normal operations established. We train for it on a regular basis – at a safe height. You see, if there is not enough height to give you the time to recover, then, an unfortunate collision between aircraft and the planet will ensue. Not something you want to try, for it will spoil your day, and that of any others in the aircraft with you!

So, when we say SPEED = SECURITY, we mean that ‘a speed above that at which the aircraft wing will stall, but less than the speed at which the aircraft wings will fail’. The maximum structural speed of an aircraft is called the ‘VNE’ or speed (V) to ‘Never Exceed’. The minimum speed at which the plane will fly is called the Stall Speed, or ‘VS; meaning speed at which the plane will Stall or stop flying. Each and every aircraft has a specific range in which it can safely operate, depending on the configuration (which can change during flight), manoeuvre (stall speed increases in the turns), load, etc., and the aircraft should be kept in that range (and clear of the ‘end zones’) to be ‘safe’.

It can be quite hard to get to the top speed without making some distinct efforts (such as maintaining a high power setting and/or pushing the controls for a quicker descent), but it can be quite easy to lose speed and ‘get slow’, perhaps through distraction or failure to realise that the load/manoeuvre has brought the stall speed closer to the current speed! As the aircraft gets close to the stall speed, the controls tend to become less effective and can feel ‘shaky’ – caused by the airflow breaking off the wings in turbulence that hits the tail surfaces, or by a mechanical warning device – and in some aircraft a warning buzzer or electronic voice prompt will alert the pilot to ‘lack of speed’

Altitude being ‘life insurance’ is really more about needing enough height. Altitude is the distance between mean sea level and the aircraft, whereas, height is the distance between Terra Firma and the flying machine. Height is, therefore, far more crucial than Altitude! Imagine flying at 3000 feet over the sea, no worries. Then try that same altitude where the terrain is 2500 feet – you only have 500 feet of height between you and the trees!

Simple rules, essential mantra. But how does this affect our business lives? I find these rules are key to practically everything I do. But let us look at a particular example first.

Expresso, the only CDMA telecoms operator in the country, is clearly not ‘flying high’ above the rest of the operators – their market penetration not extensive at an estimated 0.9% (191,000 out of 21,000,000 subscribers in Ghana). So, as a company they lack ‘Life Insurance’, they are not able to lose subscribers (read altitude) easily. Fortunately, they have an excellent Mobile Modem system that really delivers the goods – it is fast, and Speed=Security! That speed of internet access is not matched, by the ability to resolve problems… and we know that they are not alone on that score! They have had a billing problem on the internet modems for a while, it is inconvenient, but we will all live with it since the speed of data transfer is worth the occasional billing frustration. However, when it comes to voice service, there is a problem. If the voice service is not giving you ‘bang per buck’ then you can enjoy the wonders of ‘Mobile Number Portability’ – change operators. A sort of ‘subscribers parachute’ from one ‘telecoms aircraft’ to another! So, when you purchase credit, find that the service provider ‘has cancelled’ the numbers, and then have to make multiple calls, even being told ‘you have to wait till tomorrow’, you can imagine that, the option of changing or ‘porting’ to a provider with more speedy service, is on the cards. Can you imagine an older person, purchasing credit, getting home to find that, not only has the card been ‘cancelled’ but that the operator wants you to make lots of calls and to then to wait till tomorrow before they credit your account? That is tantamount to ‘stalling the wing at a very low height’, at least from my perspective!

It is not just the telecoms market, that we can easily relate this to. No, not at all. So many organisations take weeks or months to respond to letters – and some go un-responded to completely. If it is a bureaucratic/administrative outfit, we tend to accept it as ‘normal’. But if it is a business operation and we are able to ‘go elsewhere’, where the supplier has more speed and care, making us feel safer. It gives us confidence, and, interestingly as we transfer our business we tend to give the new supplier more speed and more altitude!

What about in our personal lives? We all know that it takes ‘one wrong to negate a few thousand rights’. How much ‘personal altitude’ do you have with your family and friends? If you ‘stall’ how far will drop on their ‘altimeter of confidence’? It is easy to think that this ‘Speed and Altitude business’ is fine and dandy for pilots, but, frankly it applies across the board.

So, as you look at the week ahead, how much height above the potential crash and burn site do you have? Are you moving at the right speed to be safe as you traverse the challenges of the week? Do you have a plan to recover the ‘stall’ should it occur in the weeks events? Remember, stalls can creep up on you, and the difference between life and death lies in the reaction times and technique… Speed = Security and Altitude = life insurance!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Photo of the week, January 11th

The Poet John Donne (1572-1631) wrote: ' No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, [this continent] is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee. Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbours. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did, for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current money, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another's danger I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security. ' Photo of the Islands South of Adome bridge, courtesy of Patricia Mawuli Nyekodzi.

Monday, January 9, 2012

January 9th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

When did you last consider the fact that somebody may be seriously injured or die in your office, in your home, in your workplace, on the river, on the lake, on the road, on your boat, or, as in my case, in your plane or on your aerodrome this year? Did you get into the car this morning, geared up for an accident – your own or seeing and avoiding somebody else’s? Did you check that the brakes worked before going any faster than a snail’s pace? Did you start your New Year ‘message’ to your staff or colleagues with ‘how can we stop there being an accident this year’? Death, or injury, is a potential incident around us all the time – but we tend to shy away from facing it directly.

At times, we try to cover over an accident with ‘what we (supposedly) did to prevent it’ - failing to accept our part in the accident chain, no matter how close or remote… In fact, I read with dismay an announcement in relation to recent deaths on the lake, that a certain Deputy Minister is‘…lauding efforts by government and stakeholders to curtail the number of accidents on the Volta Lake. According to her, a total of 3,000 lives would have been lost last year [2011] on the Volta Lake if pragmatic steps were not taken to address causes of accidents on the lake.’ (Source:Joyonline) – WOW, what a reaction to deaths… but how many lives are going to be lost on the lake this year and what are we going to do to realistically improve on the national record ? (Perhaps if you add up all the deaths on the lake over the fifty year history of the lake, you may find around 3,000 deaths – so what was so special about last year? Perhaps there is some missing information available…)

Whenever we are preparing an aircraft for its first flight there is a certain amount of excitement. The few days prior to the test flight there is a ‘high’ in the team that built the aircraft. My job is to burst their bubble. I generally state ‘When I test fly this machine we will discover if you have built a coffin or an aircraft.’ It refocus the minds, wipes away the smiles and improves potential for safety. On the day of the test flight, all things are looked at, more than usual, full consideration is given to the weather, the conditions of the field, the test pilot (me), the condition of the fuel, the airframe and the engine… Serious thought is given to the FACT that it MAY go wrong. It is that very fact that makes it safe and keeps the accident numbers down in aviation. On every flight we check the brakes, the wings, the engine, the whole machine – BECAUSE we are ready to AVOID an accident, not JUST one flight now and then – ALL of them.

I start my ‘Welcome back to the airfield in 2012 statement with ‘Somebody could die on this airfield in 2012...’, and go on to explain ‘…because they did not consider that what they were doing may have dangers – so accept it now – life is dangerous – be prepared for it – and prevent it.

My annual 'state of the airfield' speech is not a heart-warming one. People do not like it. I will get told 'You must not say that' or 'that is not a good approach' or even ‘God will not let that happen’. But, as an aviator I know that ‘recognition of a risk is preparation for the risk’ and, in many cases, the best way of preventing the potential negative outcomes of that risk should it raise its ugly head.

As a pilot we start each flight by planning for a disaster! What we will do 'if something goes wrong'? What is the option, do we have enough fuel for the trip and EXTRA fuel to cope with weather or other issues? Do we have a suitable safety pack? Do we have first aid, water, food, cash and a mobile phone in case we have to land in the bush somewhere inhospitable? Do we have a rope to climb out of a tree in case we land in a tree (I think about that a lot, by the way – especially when flying over forests in the Ashanti and Western Regions)? Do we have a life preserver or the life raft if we are going near 'such risk areas'? Is the engine safe and sound? We remove the top cowl at least once every day that we fly a cowled aircraft, whereas most cowled engines in the world only get a cowl off inspection every 50 hours… WHY? Because we expect the worst...check for it…think about it…plan for it…are prepared for it…do all we can to avoid it…and thus reduce its chance of happening!

Bruce Landsberg, president of the AOPA Foundation, recently made the statement that "Complacency remains the enemy of safety" In other words if you THINK you are safe, you are NOT! Simple and effective – perhaps a poster for your wall this year …. ‘Complacency remains the enemy of safety’

Interestingly, in many parts of the world, children are conditioned for the dangers of the road 'Look left and right before you cross or you could be crushed to death by a car' is the basic rule, and that 'fearful respect' works in reducing the accident rate of children crossing roads.

However, when was the last time you went out to your car and said 'Well, today we could all have a fearful accident in this car, let us all check the wheels, engine, and make sure we have no loose objects that could fly around, all loads secured, and all wear our seat belts BEFORE we start the engine - BECAUSE we understand the risks?

Perhaps, in the kitchen we should start by stating 'Salmonella kills, and we want to have a safe meal - and those knives could cause a nasty accident, so let us make sure we have a stocked first aid cabinet BEFORE we use them'....

As flight #2012 is gaining its momentum down the runway of January, we should, perhaps, ask ourselves 'are we complacent about safety in 2012?' and 'what can we do to make it a safe year?'

Let us not HOPE for a safe 2012, let us not be COMPLACENT about safety in 2012; let us stop kidding ourselves that we ‘have done all that we can’ or that ‘it won’t happen to me’; let us all WORK towards a greater SAFETY AWARENESS and SAFETY RECORD, by being aware of the RISKS that 2012 has in store, and MITIGATE against them –TOGETHER!

Have a good one!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail