Monday, April 30, 2012

April 30th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

It is amazing how many things we take for granted, no matter where you are in the world. However, one person’s 'for granted' is not the same as another’s 'for granted'...

I take for granted that my staff will not hesitate to take a shovel to clear and level dirt, by hand – all day. Others take for granted that they can pick up a phone and ask for a 'JCB' to come and do the job. The world is a tiny place, with a lot of anomalies. Wherever we live and work we take many things for granted that are a massive advantage, and regularly bemoan the 'for granted' that others take, whilst they bemoan our own 'for granted' list.

A good Ghanaian friend of mine recently moved to the UK. She wrote 'I miss the sunshine', whilst here she would always find an excuse to 'stay out of the sun'. Perhaps we all have a tendency to want what we do not have. Such thinking is counterproductive and causes developmental delays of ourselves, our business activities and our country.

Last week, a team went to Accra to purchase some printing paper for posters (glossy paper for our Laser printer) to be used for aerial health-drops to the rural communities. After half-a-day of 'go come', 'co bra', 'yi na va' and general pillar-to-post movements, the call was made 'we will make do with what we have'. It would have been easier to say 'we can't do what we planned, so we stop'. We could have gotten into a long and expensive quest for the desired supplies. Yet, the need to move forwards with the available resources, those which could do the job, safely, effectively and productively, even if they were not 'perfect' was the key to timely completion of the project.

I have been told many times 'oh, we cannot do that because...' and the desire for what is available readily elsewhere and the 'reasons' why the project cannot be completed, are poured into the ears of any available listener.

One of my bosses, years ago, when I was programming computer-controlled production machines, taught me a good lesson. I would regularly enter his office, drawing of a new product in hand, expounding to him ‘how much we need a new machine, new tooling, new staff, new computers and the rest’. He would listen, smile and tell me 'Please, bring me solutions, not problems. There is no more money. You are creative. Solve it.' Simple.

Then, one wondrous day he burst into my office with an exclamation 'We have a grant for a new machine!', the relief on my face was so obvious I could I feel it to my very core.

Going to the showrooms of one of the world’s leading computer-controlled/robotic machine producers in the world was even more amazing. The implementation team chatted excitedly all the way to the showrooms. The machine was demonstrated, capable of hundreds of holes per minute in 6mm steel, with an accuracy of a fraction of a millimetre. The production manager smiled, almost as much as if you had given him a cigar. The drawing office manager smiled as if it were a new Mercedes motorcar! However, I looked worried. This machine was light-years ahead of the existing machinery we used to produce car, aircraft, air-conditioning, genset and other parts with. It would need a special programming system, and in 1985 that meant a new computer system.

I was shown the, then GBP25,000+ mini-computer-based programming system. The software was slow, but could be used to produce the part-programmes. I explained to my implementation colleagues that 'the computer system is essential to the realisation of production'. Their eyes were feasting on the fast moving X-,Y-axis positioning and the ability of the 72-tool-turret to change tools in less than 2 seconds from any position…

They took for granted that the machine could do amazing things, without passing a second thought for how the programmes would be produced or uploaded to the control system.

The next day, we briefed the boss. He smiled as my colleagues expressed the amazing potential that the machine held for profits and creativity. I then spoke about the marvels of the new computer system and expressed a desire to have the computer system two weeks prior to installation of the machine itself.

The boss gave me that 'Don’t give me problems. Give me solutions.' look, verbalising it with 'We only have a grant for the machine. Not the computer system.' I felt as if I was falling backwards through the open cargo-door of a C130 Hercules from 20,000 feet. I metaphorically grabbed at a cargo net and pulled myself back to a safe place. 'You mean we don’t have a programming system?'. 'No.' came the monosyllabic response that was about to change my future. The talk continued and I sat quietly, letting them wax lyrical as much as they pleased. Then, hanging back as the rest of the team left, I simply asked 'Can I have a budget to solve the problem?' The response was 'GBP5,000'. Barely enough to obtain the most basic of systems at that time, let alone software.

My boss had done me a favour, he 'took for granted' that I could 'Provide a solution. Not bring a problem.’ The next few days passed without sleep. Then I placed an order for an early PC (an 80286 processor, 128kb RAM, 20Mb hard drive, monochrome graphics and a BASIC programming system). I also ordered some data cables and connectors. That was the money spent.

Now, I needed to learn a new skill, and a skill that I would go on to use in many fields. I had to produce the programing software necessary to programme the new machine. Sleep was a luxury as I keyed thousands of lines of code and tested my 'self-designed' CAD-CAM solution. I worked on a coding system and a back-plotter (software that interprets the code used to produce the part, and then draws the finished part for you, showing the tool paths), post-processors (able to convert code from one language to another) and more. Finally, I worked on the DNC (Direct Numerical Control) protocols - the wizardry of the day.

As the new machine’s heart was being wired up to the three-phase, and hydraulic oil poured into its veins, my company was equipped with a better IT solution than any on the market. Why? Because my boss took it for granted that I could solve the problem. I did not know that I could do that, nor did he. He NEEDED me to be able to solve the problem, and took it for granted that I could, which inspired and enabled my 'can do' attitude, and we won.

There are still many challenges in West Africa that we could empower those on the ground to overcome, through believing that they can, and then following through with the training, support and encouragement to enable it to happen, creatively.

As my boss used to say: 'Bring me solutions, not problems. You are creative. Solve it.'


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, April 25, 2012

Photo of the week, April 25th

Much of the agriculture in West Africa lacks the benefits of mechanisation beyond fairly basic tools.  This island and shores of the Lake Volta (in the Eastern Region of Ghana) demonstrate the determination and commitment of the rural dwellers in these parts.  These lands are completely prepared by hand, and much of the area only accessible by simple canoe.  Such diligence needs to be rewarded,. with support. encouragement, education and health support as the route towards improved socio-economic standards.... Photo Courtesy of Medicine on the Move


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

April 23rd, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

If you have not read ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’, by Richard Bach, please put it on your reading list. The story of ‘Jonathan’ a regular seagull, a common seabird, who stood out, stood up, flew higher, flew faster, flew slower and flew more aerobatics than the rest of the flock, and was outcast from his own society for it. It really is a story with meanings at many levels – and the message is multi-multi-threaded. One aspect is that we should all ‘dream, try, achieve’ – and accept being potentially ‘shunned’ by others for the craziness of an idea. That very spirit led to the creation of NASA’s space shuttles, now in retirement. The shuttle Discovery was flown around Washington D.C. last week, bolted onto the top of a modified Boeing 747, before finally going to live, and inspire some more, at the Smithsonian museum.

Much as this oversized rocket-power-up, glide-back ‘seagull’ lacks aerodynamic beauty; it certainly has played a major part in the development of many space based projects. However, some may remember the issue of thermal tiles that fell off, and the tragedies that befell some of the missions. Regardless of the issues, and even the loss of life and equipment, the project pushed on, breaking the edges of the envelope wide open, celebrating the sacrifices of the many, by achieving the seemingly impossible.

What is probably most important is, that many of us are inspired by the sight of the space shuttle, just in a picture. Imagine the inspiration poured out by the sheer vision in reality as she flew piggy-back from Houston to Washington, to her new terrestrial resting place.

Does the sight of the Space Shuttle make you want to be an astronaut? Probably not. But it does make you feel good inside, it does raise something, the spark of a passion to do something amazing... and for many that inspiration has led to careers in totally different fields – but the inspiration was needed to catalyse the reaction!

Having recently met with the members of a number of the communities we fly over regularly, and now supply with health education materials by air, I came to realise what a massive inspiration the act of taking health education by air to them is! The ‘thank you’ stream is not just for dropping their materials to them, but for changing the spirit of the day – for creating an inspirational wave in our passage. It brought a tear of happiness to my eye when around 40 community members held high their packages from the ETCHE (Encouragement Training for Community Health Empowerment) drops.

Flying over, just waving out the window at the children and the folks below is making more of a difference than I had ever imagined…

I wonder how many inspirational moments we are passing up in our everyday lives. How often have you failed to look out of the window when you hear the sound of a plane going by? It could have been your moment of inspiration from the sky – there in passage, free to take, but missed, by choice.

It is interesting how, throughout history, certain ‘objects’ have inspired more than others. Take trains for instance. At one time it was common for children in Europe to want to be a ‘train driver’. Here, as much as in Europe, the excavators (and the bigger the better), catch children’s eyes, lighting fires in the depths of their sub and not so sub-consciousness – the sight of something that is so different to the norm… Sadly, I often see parents pulling their children away from their inspirational moment, unknowingly detracting from their future motivations and innovations. Yet, in Washington last week, entire crowds; adults, children, servicemen, teachers, students, preachers, all stopped what they were doing and cheered the passing of the Space Shuttle, even after several tours of the city, prior to landing.

You cannot buy inspiration, nor can you sell it. It must be given freely, and received with no commitment. A transaction without tax! Long may that last! (Please do not inform the GRA/IRS!)

With the increasing dependence on electronic media, children take longer to get to see many things… ‘paper books’ are far more ‘person’ friendly and do not depend on power nor lots of supervision. Perhaps every school and every village in the country should have a set of inspirational picture books. Stimulation for the soul to be taken in by the eyes… ‘eye inspiration’ if you will!

Of course, it is not always just the image of an aircraft, train, tractor, excavator or similar that inspires. Poetry, music, art and people themselves can trigger something deep inside of us. For one of the students who recently read ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’, it was the words, accompanied by a simple black-and-white still photo of a seagull. The words meant something to her, something special, something personal – and the picture acted as a locus onto and into which her feelings attached. The smile, the beaming smile that came across her face as she read out a particular passage to us, hesitating on one or two more complex words, gave those around a special moment of transmitted inspiration.

When your children are reading, or looking at something with interest, are you taking the moment to watch, listen and also gain from the new energy that is being emitted? Often it is so powerful that you may find yourself transfixed in the moment of inspiration, and feel the need to pass it on. This occurs not just in our children, but also in our colleagues and friends, if only we can take the time, making the effort to find it.

In the hustle and bustle of today’s electronic screens, be they computer, iPhone, Android device or television, we are losing the shared inspiration that only comes from watching and listening, sensing and absorbing the moment of others – together.

Ghana is rapidly being ‘digitalised’, and not just via the Biometric Register of Voters, and, with it, some of the moments of opportunity to share are being lost. Furthermore, many of those who are not yet ‘digitalised’ are often so busy trying to survive, to earn their daily kenkey, to gain some banku or to splash out on some ‘Kofi Brokeman’, that their eyes and ears are focused on survival, and they are missing the opportunity for inspiration.

Receiving inspiration is one thing, but creating the opportunity for it is another. Taking time out of the madness of ‘day-to-day economics’ and deliberately sharing an image of awe, reading a passage of poetry that moves the soul, watching that plane soar across the sky and just taking a moment to chat about it, and ‘sneaking a peek’ into the eyes of the inspired, spreading the movement, creating the future, opening the doors to dreams yet to come.

It just takes just a moment… but it will change your outlook, their outlook, and perhaps the future of a whole generation.

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, April 18, 2012

Photo of the week, April 18th

Recycling is a mentality that is beginning to catch on in Ghana.  Here we see a large collection of plastic packagings for recycling, at a site in rural Ghana.  Sadly many of the items waiting for recycling tend to blow around into the surrounding countryside.  After a rain, the plastic adds to the malaria risk by acting as a temporary hatching ground for the mosquito. Recycling is excellent, and needs to be carried out with good understanding of the management and effects (good and not so good) of the activity.  Photo Courtesy of Medicine on the Move.

Monday, April 16, 2012

April 16th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. YawIt is rare that things change in ‘big steps’ in aviation, and the majority of aircraft engines being flown in small planes today are still based on, if not completely, 1950’s technology.

 Last month the launch of the Rotax 912iS engine really marked a stage in ‘the evolution of aircraft engines’. Being at the launch of this new engine was a real thrill. More of a thrill was seeing that the ONLY woman so far trained on this new engine was a Ghanaian – living and working in Ghana in the light aviation sector – and she got a special mention by the management at the ‘engine-premiere’! Congratulations go to Patricia Mawuli Nyekodzi!

This engine is special. It is the result of a lot of research and development (over 10,000 hours of testing), and is exciting in the many realms of possibilities it opens up. Aircraft engines are special pieces of engineering, they are all about safety, reliability and what is called ‘redundancy’. Redundancy is about the ‘back-up’ solution. For example, each cylinder has two spark plugs, and two ‘spark generators’ (either magnetos or electrical modules). If one fails, the other continues – in other words, during normal operations, one of those spark plugs ‘is not really needed for the engine to work’, or is redundant. We call it dual ignition, and it has been the backbone of aviation piston engine reliability for many years now. Most aircraft engines have a fuel pump – or indeed two. The second one is the back-up, but may also be used during critical phases of flight, such as take-off and landing.

 The newest engine from the Rotax stables has one hundred horsepower – but is expected to burn the same, or perhaps even less, than the current eighty horsepower offering, going further, faster on the same fuel!

 The big change is really in the way the fuel and air gets mixed up and sucked into the cylinders for ignition. Traditional engines use carburettors, a simple device that mixes fuel and air in the approximate proportions of 1:15, (one part fuel, fifteen parts air) at ‘theoretical’ sea-level or thereabouts, to create that little bang that makes the power stroke. In a car that is quite easy, but in a plane we are changing altitudes, and with it, the density of the air. The fuel stays at the same density, and thus, as you climb you are running rich and burning unnecessary fuel. This can be mitigated against using ‘constant depression carburettors’ or using a ‘mixture control’ to adjust the fuel/air ratio as you climb. All the same, it is not an efficient solution.

Now, if you take away the carburettor and replace it with fuel injection, and add a little computer that measures, amongst other things, air pressure, air temperature and exhaust gas temperature, and let the computer calculate and control the exact amount of fuel going into each cylinder, so that each cylinder burns perfectly, with the optimum exhaust gas, you start to get an interesting solution. But this is not new… cars have been doing something like this for a long time… so, how is it more interesting in an aircraft?
Redundancy. What if an injector gets blocked or fails? Design a solution with two injectors per cylinder! What if the computer (called an ECU or Engine Control Unit) fails? Use a two lane ECU and ensure that it is remarkably robust (that means use a suitable computer protocol, in this case CAN Aerospace !

Let us look at the next problem. In a non-ECU aircraft engine, normally, if the battery fails the engine continues to run – it is self-perpetuating, provided it has fuel and air! So, if you put a two lane ECU on, and the power fails, they will BOTH stop working! That is not good.

Normally, a car has a battery and an alternator. This latest aircraft engine takes it a step further. The engine has TWO electrical generators (alternators built onto the rear end of the crankshaft), and a battery. This means that there are THREE sources of power for the two computers! In reality, ONE of the generators powers the ECU, where the two lanes are able to operate concurrently and independently. Should one of the lanes fail, the second lane will take over, just like the spark plugs in the dual ignition system. Now, the power needs to be ‘rectified and regulated’, to ensure clean power. So, of course, the newest engine has TWO rectifier/regulators… and if one generator/rectifier/regulator fails… it switches to the other!

EFIS (Electronic Fuel Injection Systems) are well proven in the automobile industry, but it is only now that the aviation safe, reliable aero-redundancy aware solutions are making headlines. This is not the first aircraft engine to offer the basic EFI solution, but it is probably the first to do so with such an impressive array of innovation!

What are the advantages of such an engine – which is initially about 20% more expensive than the still popular carburetted engine? Let’s take a look.

Fuel: Traditional aircraft engines require 100LL (AvGas), an expensive, and hard to find in West Africa, fuel. Rotax has provided MoGas (automobile fuel) aircraft engines for a long time, and is also able to take the modern e10 fuel (an ethanol blend used in Europe). The potential for this engine to activate a knock-sensor may make fuel accessibility much less of an issue than ever before in our region. You can’t beat getting high quality fuel, but to be able to ‘cocktail’ should the need arise maybe just around the corner, and with it new destinations and opportunities!

Consumption: Saving fuel is saving money, and also results in a reduction of emissions. The better fuel economy is also related to better combustion, and with it cleaner air, making Eco-Friendly a new term to watch out for in aircraft engines!

Maintenance: With no carburettors there is no carb-maintenance, this will reduce down time and ownership costs considerably – and eliminate the risk of ‘carb-icing’! Furthermore, imagine flying along and being able to carry out a ‘health check’ of your engine. Not just the temperature of the oil and cylinder heads, but a health check on the computers and all of the many sensors. THAT is what this new engine, when installed with an appropriate instrument system, offers!

When will we see such an engine flying in West Africa? Probably sooner than you think! But you can be sure that I will let you know about it here, in Fresh Air Matters – and you can be certain that it will be installed by, and flown by, local locally trained personnel, and used as an education tool for sustainable light aviation in our sub-region.

Ghana is amongst the continents leaders in many aspects of light aviation, and now leading in the engineering of modern, exciting ‘mechatronic’ power plants, including the industrial standard CANAerospace Data Bus based instrumentation systems, in the fastest growing sector of aviation worldwide!

Learning to fly and owning an aircraft in West Africa, for business and/or for pleasure, just became a little bit more interesting – and probably one step closer to enabling the growth curve, of this needed aviation sector, take a steeper climb!

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, April 11, 2012

Photo of the week, April 11th

It is wonderful to see that, in more and more cases, the 'School Building' is becoming a visibly prominent feature of our rural communities.  Here we see a beautiful school with a latrine - an added bonus and key feature in rural health facilitation.  It would be even better to see some water harvesting, and the rubbish around the site cleared up.  That is the work of the community as a whole, but will only occur with education and a little encouragement.  Often the community does not understand the 'WHY', and that is very important to get across.  The ETCHE programme, an aerial delivery based health education programme, believes in Encouragement Training for Community Health Empowerment.  Photo Courtesy of Medicine on the Move

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Photo of the week, April 4th

Akateng, in the Upper Manya Krobo District is a vibrant fishing market town, many of the communities around it are inaccessible, making Akateng a local hotspot for trading activities. The plethora of sheet metal roofs is testimony to 'accessibility', and a key factor in aerial assessment of a communities ability to receive vehicles, as well as its relative economic status. The communities just a few kilometres away, those without power, water or easy vehicular access tell a very different story from the air. photo courtesy of Medicine on the Move

Monday, April 2, 2012

April 2nd, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Once again this week I have witnessed too many accidents on the road – one particularly bad one seen from the sky. Human beings disturbingly squashed beyond recognition on the road, and no sign of any person trying to stop and reduce the horrendous mutilation of their corpse. Vehicles leaving the road many tens of meters, inverted, cabs depleted to nothingness, ravaged by the ‘opportunists’ seeking yams, tyres or lights. So many of these accidents are avoidable, and yet they will not be avoided until the value of human life is raised in our society.

What is the ‘value’ of a human life? According to one lawyer I spoke with, ‘In the USA you expect about four million dollars, in Europe around one million dollars and in the developing nations a few tens of thousands of dollars’. Shocked, I asked for an explanation. ‘It is all based on earning potential’. Basically, the lifetime earning of the person is their ‘value’. According to my ‘forty years working calculation’, it would appear that, in the USA, there are, supposedly, lots of people earning one hundred thousand US dollars per year. In Europe, twenty five thousand dollars seems to be the case. In the developing nations, a few thousand dollars a year is seen as reasonable.

I guess that there is some sort of reasoning in the lawyer’s calculations, but for me, a life is a life, and it is worth the same – regardless of age, gender, race or occupation. I don’t care if you are rich or poor; young or old; man or woman; you have the potential to contribute to your society, and to the world in amazing ways. Is a lawyer ‘worth more’ than a cleaner? Is a pilot ‘worth more’ than a ticket clerk? Is a farmer ‘worth more’ than a Ship’s Captain? Is a woman worth more than a man? (please be careful who you ask the last question to!)

We all know that we are all where we are thanks to a few ‘co-incidences’. Where we were born. Our parents, or in some case, lack of parents. Our relatives. Our friends. Our access, or not, to education. Our opportunities, taken and passed up. The presence or absence of a Y chromosome… OK, we took what we had and used it together with our personalities, but how much of our personalities were related to our ‘lottery of birth’? All the same, does that make any one of us worth more than another?

In monetary terms, and the terms of the lawyer, I can understand ‘valuing the output of a person’s life’. But how do you really value it? Mother Teresa was worthless according to the lawyer-calc! What about a priest? Perhaps, if the lawyer’s calcs are valid, a drug dealer has more value? Surely not! By the same calculations, many people have ‘dropped in value’ because they have chosen to earn less and do more. Yet, they remain the same people.

Personally, I value the life of the ‘Mother Teresa type’ more than the ‘lawyer type’ or ‘drug dealer type’ any day! Every day, judges around the world have to ‘value’ people, and it seems unfair. There was a famous case in the UK where a farmer was sued for loss of earnings by the thief that he had shot stealing from his own farm-house! Perhaps judges can put a ‘cash value’ on their heads, but, for me at least, that is not the real point of ‘valuing life’.

I recently received an image in my e-mail of two people; one was Whitney Houston, the other of a few severely starved children from a developing nation. The caption read ‘one star dies and a million mourn. A million children die and nobody mourns’. It is not an easy dilemma, nor a fair comparison; the star was well known, media-exposed during her life and loved as a performer. The children depicted would have lived, briefly, and died in obscurity, apart from an intrusive photographic image of their frail forms, sold to the tabloids for more than the cost of saving many of their souls. My mother’s regular comment at scenes such as these was, ‘there, but for the Grace of God, go I.’ - and it is true, the hand of fate deals it blows. Yet, I fail to accept that it is something that we cannot change. I know that I have the ability to change some things, not all, but some – and so do you.

We cannot change the fate of a movie star – that is far beyond our realm of abilities. We can, however, do something to change the fate of the children who may otherwise live, suffer and die in obscurity. However, by doing so, we will probably lower our ‘financial value’ in the lawyer-calc system!

Perhaps the term ‘value’ human life in itself is the problem. Perhaps we should we use the term ‘Respect’, ‘Honour’, ‘Revere’ or perhaps ‘Hold in high regard’ human life?

I see some people value their mobile phones more than their children. I see that they talk to their mobile phone instead of their genetic outputs. Again, perhaps they respect their mobile phone, honour and revere it, holding it in higher regard, than the very beings that they have brought into the cosmos? Perhaps they perceive that their phone cost more than their offspring?

We should all ask ourselves a simple question; ‘how much do I value my own life?’. In my case, my own life, to me, has little value, I am simply passing through, and feel that I should, and can, reach out and touch as many other lives as possible – a sort of ‘invest and multiply’ feature, or should one say ‘app’ in today’s world? Changing the status quo always starts with ONE person, or rather lots of ‘one persons’ across the world, acting on their beliefs.

Perhaps that is the feature we need to understand. Our lives have little or no value unless we are able to share what we have, be it knowledge, funds, experiences or empathy with others. Perhaps our real value lies in the multiplication factor. I have spread joy, and sadness. I hope that I have spread more joy than sadness. I hope that I have done more good than bad. I hope that I have made more good decisions than bad ones. I hope that when I am no longer consuming oxygen (which I hope is a long time from now!), that others will value in some way, probably not monetary, my life. Hopefully, there will be evidence of my passing, in terms of how my actions, direct or indirect, tickled a change in how others are living their lives, with value, whether they knew me or not… I am just a breath passing over an ember in the bush, and all I hope for is to fan it a little, perhaps to raise a small flame, and to help to set the bush-fire of ‘valuing life; all life’ in motion across the savannah, joining the sparks, embers and breaths of others who value ‘true life’, and being a small part in the changes that make the planet a better place for those who come after us.

How do you value your life?

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