Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Photo of the week June 27th, 2012

Small communities have a wonderful appearance when viewed from above. Take a few minutes to apreciate the challenges of the inhabitants of this village, and then consider the recent rainfall. Photo courtesy of Medicine on the Move

Monday, June 25, 2012

June 25th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

If you had to be a PART of an aircraft, which part would you be? I would be a wing. Just one. Probably the left one.

Where does this bizarre statement come from? Well, it comes from many years of trying to be all the parts of an aircraft, only to realize that being a left wing is more fun, more beneficial and, frankly, more practical for me. It is even a part of the Millennium Development Goals - Millennium Development Goal 8, “Develop a global partnership for development”, which encourages wide participation and close collaboration between all development actors. Confused? Please, stay with me on this… it gets more complicated!

Consider the following concept:

  • A path-beater is somebody who beats the bush down in orderto create path. What use is that path     unless others follow and use it – ensuring that it remains clear and operational? If the path beater clears the path and moves on, the path is soon overgrown and impassable by others. It is important to clear a path, establish a safe route, AND that others will, and do, follow. 

Now, take that concept and add the spice of a slightly objectionable, in your face and direct person who seeks progress for all, but is strong minded, independent and thinks out of the box – not always easy to work with, unless you are of a similar nature.

I accept that I am a bit like a single rail of a railway line – punching out – working to find the best route for a single rail, hoping that another rail will find a route alongside. Why? Because it takes TWO rails to run a train on…and sleepers, and fish-plates and so much more…

In order for the masses to get anywhere, it takes BOTH rails, and all their associated parts, to be in place. I once tried to be both rails, but it is not possible – they are laid parallel at an 1 in 20 slope to each other – and I can only lean one way!

Recently I have found the concept of finding ‘rails that run parallel to me with a tilt of 1 in 20 in my direction’ are good partners. Those other rails (organisations and individuals) who do not want to be in the exact position as me, but to be at a certain distance and with a leaning towards me and my rail, are great assets – and, if worked together with, can result in the movement of some heavy goods! The two rails must never converge nor diverge – that would be a disaster – they must remain perfectly parallel with a little leaning towards each other.

How many people do we know that we ‘could never work with’, or have tried to work with and found it to be a ‘minefield of unexpected explosions and casualties’! If we are honest, a lot! Yet, how many of those people have corresponding targets and goals, but are simply not ‘made’ to be in the same space – but rather to run parallel – leaning towards you, as you lean towards them, both heading at the same forwards, towards the same end goal, station and buffer stops!?

It is great when there are others with similar minds and ways of doing things that join your (in my case left) rail. Yet we often miss the fact that the parallel rail is as important as our own – and we must lean towards, but not cross, converge or diverge from it, for fear of endangering the many who wish to travel on the tracks of our development!

Back to wings and planes: Aircraft have (at least) two wings. They appear identical, but are far from it – they are mirror images of each other – everything laid out in opposition – yet serving the very same function. In flying, when the left aileron goes up, the right one goes down and vice-versa! They are attached to the aircraft at a slight (mirrored) angle, leaning in towards each other – either up (dihedral) or down (anhedral). More structural work goes into fixing these wings on opposite sides of the fuselage, where those going somewhere will travel, than goes into the wings themselves – something has to absorb the resultant stress!

Separation of supposedly similar entities, working together, enabling another process to happen, each ‘left has a right, and each right a left’ – and they must never meet – only lean towards each other, with suitable (mechanical) stress absorption in the middle!

Imaging trying to fly with just a left wing or run a railway line with just one rail... both would result in mishaps and challenges that would result in zero positive advancement towards the goal or destination.

In our daily activities we may demonstrate many skills, but we are all better at some than others. Others will excel at our weak points and be weak in our strongpoints. The trick is to ‘pair up’ with the necessary other rail or wing and to make faster more efficient movements in the positive direction of travel – enabling others, many of whom may be passive passengers, to move with you as well!

Meeting this week with a great Ghanaian thinker, humanitarian and research guru, we chatted about our differences. My strength lies in oil, grease, fuel and getting cuts on my hands. Ask me to solve a problem, build a solution, make it work and make it repeatable, reliable as well as cost- and outcome-efficient and that is where my personal strength lies. Add an element of adventure, technical challenges, working to a deadline and a humanitarian benefit, and I am in my element!

My learned friend has a different approach. He excels at people, office work, letters, meetings, discussions, forums, workshops and political correctness. None of which is in my bones – not at all! Yet, our end goals are identical – we both lean heavily towards certain humanitarian end game concepts for rural Ghanaians.

Both of us are ‘cartoons’ – that is we are incredibly animated. We both tend to be loud. We are both ready to go to extraordinary lengths to push our objectives forwards. We both respect the position of the other – but would not want to be the other – we celebrate our differences.

Much as we can sit in a meeting together and work on a project together, we could never work in the same place – nor on the same ASPECT of a project. However, joining hands we can make any project in our joint-field-of-vision more effective, productive, efficient, dynamic and long-lasting. We both wear our staff out. We are both considered a little ‘eccentric’.

We are each an opposing wing. We cannot be in the others place…. It is not natural for us. We work actively together, finding the common goals that enable us to ‘Develop a partnership for development’ with a positive, yet otherwise unachievable, end point.

Each of us has travelled alone and got a certain distance remarkably quickly, but we realise and accept that one rail or one wing is not enough if we are to maximise outcomes.

From now on we will metaphorically fly with BOTH wings firmly attached. Each being equally strong and structurally sound, yet a mirror image of each other - taking to the skies with confidence on a journey that will carry others along on a ride that will change their lives.

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, June 20, 2012

Photo of the week June 20th, 2012

As our rural populations grow, they seek to increase their agricultural footprint. In many parts of the Eastern Region, especially along the Akwapim-Togo ridge, there is an increase in hill farming activities. Clearing and planting large areas on these slopes is often the only place they can access to increase their yields. Farming on these slopes has both benefits and risks. Sadly, there seems to be little advice given regarding the erosion risks and future dangers to the soil potential as well as risks to those undertaking farming under such circumstances. Photo Courtesy of Medicine on the Move

Monday, June 18, 2012

June 18th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

It is quite amazing how fickle the World press is. In fact, it is amazing how fickle human beings are. No matter how old we get, we still seem to see everything with the eyes of the average five year old. Yes, I just accused you and the majority of the planet at seeing things, much of the time, rather like a five year old – and herby include myself for good measure.

The average five year old is amazingly intense about what it sees and does NOW. Little consideration for any consequences of its actions, statements or tantrums. Sound familiar? It does for me!

Last week the entire news about aircraft incidents consumed the media, minds and thoughts of the people in Ghana and Nigeria. A week later and we are off seeking the next spectacle, with an occasional glance back at the air-crash to see if it got ‘exciting’ again. Is that macabre? Is it sinister? Is it morbid? No, it is simply human, five-year old and normal. We focus on what we see and hear – in the here and now. Of course, with the advent of the printing press, radio, television and now the internet it has been, and will continue to be, principally fuelled by the control of the media (yes, the very media that you are reading now!)

The headlines of the day, repeated, discussed and splashed into our cone of vision quickly become our topic of discussion and our distraction of thought. This is not in any way a negative thing. Like the five-year old, we are quick to grasp the ‘new shiny thing’ in front of our eyes and try to grasp it. I was pleased that, last week, so many people wanted to grasp the concepts of aviation in relation to ‘overshoot’ and ‘aquaplane’, but sad that the desire did not extend towards a greater understanding of the industry this week.

In the UK a few years back there were a number of sad and devastating shootings. It raised the awareness levels so high that the UK banned ownership of handguns. It was a reaction to the public outcry. Overall it was a positive thing. Yet, today, if you ask about why handguns are banned, most people will tell you simply ‘it is an act of the nanny state’, because the reasons behind the decision are as buried as the corpses of the many who suffered a terrible fate that instigated the action of the state.

During the recent Schistosomiasis conference in Akosombo, there was a lot of noise in the media about the challenges of the lake-side dwellers. Such publicity raised the awareness of the need and the general public, in true five-year old fashion was ‘shocked and wanted to do something’. Of course, as Schistosomiasis left the headlines, so did the thoughts that went with them – as did the support to do something. Not from all, but certainly from the vast majority whose attention was grabbed by the next juicy titbit of audio-visual distraction from their previous thought.

Coca-Cola grasped the ‘five year old’ public concept a long time ago. Hence, on every street corner, in every newspaper, at every opportunity, the ‘Coca-Cola’ message is broadcast and remains at the forefront of responses to ‘What would you like to drink?’ responses.

What if disease prevention could afford a campaign like that? Imagine every time somebody asked you ‘What would you really like?’ the natural response was ‘eradicate malaria, schistosomiasis and pointless infections?’ - all of which are actually within our reach, if only we educate and promote accordingly.

It is interesting that we accept the daily bombardment of Coca-Cola and other beverages and the plethora of telecoms enticements, yet we resist the absorption of the messages related to health and education with the same strength of a trained soldier under torture!

Again, the five year old will be much more receptive to ideas of chocolate and fizzy drinks than that of undertaking a less ‘exciting’ task of cleaning up his room to prevent him getting sick.

Therefore, it seems to me that the time has come to make fighting disease and poverty exciting! To make it interesting. To flavour it with more fizz than any carbonated drink. To make it more intoxicating than any adult beverage. The time has come for us a society to reject the bland and fickle media of ‘propaganda-like-stimulation’. The time has come for us to realise that unless we embrace our entire society we are destined to follow in the footsteps of other societies that we regard negatively.

Of course, it is not that simple. We all know that the biggest action any society undertakes for the betterment of all is free education – and it leads to better health as a natural progression. However, you need to have good, dedicated teachers in all locations for that to be meaningful. Sadly, the current lack of infrastructure makes getting teachers to want to go to, and remain, in the rural areas a challenge, to put it mildly. However, without it, the rural areas will continue to suffer, as will health and national development.

What does it take in today’s society to encourage teachers to WANT to be in a rural school? Easy access, such as roads? Yes. Electricity to power lights, computers and fans? Yes. Clean water supply? Yes. Also, in case we might forget it, telecoms coverage to ensure voice communications as well as access to internet – the resource that is rapidly becoming a human right along with water and health – and yet its infiltration into Africa is limited by so many factors.

The question often asked is ‘which one first?’ Should you put roads, power and water in before the teachers? Should you provide incentives to the teachers to enter the villages on a promise of future support and infrastructural development? What do you then do when the teachers become disheartened?

The proverbial chicken and egg scenario runs around like a chicken with its head cut off, only to fall to the ground at the expiration of its life, without getting anywhere.

I guess we need to look at the answer like a five year old would. ‘Make living in the villages more exciting – then I will go!’ (perhaps make chocolate available daily too!)

It is clear that we are not going to get electricity, water and other resources to all the villages in need overnight. But it is possible to equip each school with enough power to run a small computer and to provide mobile technology internet within a relatively short time span. It really is possible, but it requires the will power – political, social and community wide support – together.

In the meantime, the organisations that I work with will continue to try to find the funds to expand the successful aerial drop system of health education materials to small communities, which is available and working in Upper Manya Krobo already, and although highly effective and relatively low-cost remains a relatively unsupported method so far.

Fresh Air Matters, and a fresh approach to the matters of need in health and education matter more today than ever as our country grows. Let us no longer be five year olds in our reaction to the propaganda and publicity of the day – let us see the bigger picture and change the world – together – to be more exciting, dynamic and sustainable for our grandchildren to inherit.

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, June 13, 2012

Photo of the week, June 13th 2012

Rice is life... and for the many rural dwellers who grow rice on a small scale it is a lot of work too! From the nursery beds, through the planting out, scaring the birds away, managing the flood levels of the fields, wading in the mud rogue-ing the fields, harvest by hand, winnow by hand and dry on an available flat spot. An endless cycle to provide a small store of the 'fast food' that is rapidly replacing many of the more traditional starch sources in the Ghanaian diet. However, such farming may also increase the risk of exposure to Schistosomiasis and potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes... Education remains key to ensuring that the changes in our farming practices do not increase our health challenges. Change is necessary. So is change management. Access to education is key. Photo Courtesy of Medicine on the Move

Monday, June 11, 2012

June 11th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Sadly, the past week has been full of news of aircraft crashes. May the souls of the departed rest in peace and may those who are charged with investigation be given the wisdom, patience and discernment to carry out effective, timely and accurate reporting.

The overshoot at Kotoka and the flight into buildings in Lagos has shaken West Africa and caused a number of reactions – some good, some not so good, others simply knee jerk or ill informed.

The common factor in both accidents was ‘Nigerian Registration’. Pretty much everything else is different. Therefore, trying to point at ‘Nigerian-isms’ as the root cause is ill advised. As my mother used to say ‘careful what you say, since there but for the grace of God go I’.

The differences are stark between the two accidents. One was a cargo plane coming off the end of the runway after touch-down, in rough weather, in Ghana; the other a passenger plane, with a declared emergency, on approach, in clear weather, colliding with buildings, as the crew struggled with reported engine issues, in Nigeria.

One accident is about braking and stopping and distances, the other is about lack of, thrust and a rate/angle of descent below the prescribed path. One apparently had a West African crew at the controls, the other, reportedly an American pilot and Indian co-pilot at the helm.

Historically, Ghana has an excellent safety record – amongst the best in the world. Nigeria has a historically poor record, yet notably the past five years have shown marked improvements, and the prestigious issue of an FAA top rating, which does not come lightly. Ghana is hot on the heels to win the same FAA accolade.

Do such accidents only happen in Africa? One would think so if you read the reports. However, just last year I witnessed a fighter aircraft overrun a runway, nearly ploughing into thousands of people and other aircraft on the ground. In December 2009 an American Airlines nearly new Boeing 737, with around 150 people on board, overshot the runway in Jamaica, the aircraft breaking into three pieces, in an, apparently, somewhat similar set of circumstances to the accident in Accra.

All over the world accidents happen. They do not call for ‘dramatic reactions’, they call for ‘measured responses’. As I have mentioned in this column before, ‘every checklist item, every rule and every regulation is the result of somebody having died’.

I was asked in interview ‘what caused the accidents?’, to which the answer is a clear ‘we must wait for the results of investigating committees’. Such investigations take months, and the outcomes are never as clear as the victims and their families want, anywhere in the world, but they at least point us in the right direction.

With regards to the accident in Ghana, all that we can say with certainty, at this point, is that ‘weather was a contributing factor’. That particular aircraft flew regularly into and out of Accra – it was not as if it was not an experienced operation in West Africa. We can also note that an aircraft landed safely before, and after, the Allied Air cargo plane. Around the time of the accident it was raining heavily and there has been talk of possible ‘aquaplaning’, the term for when a tyre moves through and on top of (ie breaking contact with the hard surface) a thickness of surface water remaining on the tarmac which then creates a skidding like effect, preventing frictional braking by contact with the tarmac surface.

Whether or not aquaplaning was the cause, part cause or absolutely nothing to do with the accident – which is the job of the investigating committee to determine, it is worth understanding the term that has come up in so many reports related to the accident. The calculation for potential aquaplaning is a simple one, on a surface with standing water (it need not be very thick, even less than 1mm can create the effect) ‘potentially experienced when the speed in knots exceeds nine times the square root of the tyre pressure in psi’.

Let us consider your car for a moment, even though the formula is a little different for cars. Assume a tyre pressure of 30psi. The aquaplaning speed will be 9 x √30 or 49kts which is about 91km/hr. In reality, the car tyre has a tread that works to eject the water, and provided you have a good tread on your car, drive on suitable road surfaces and drive responsibly, aquaplaning is rarely an issue. However, should you lack good tread, have low pressure, be over-speeding, on a badly drained, low-friction road surface and/or have other factors at play, you could find yourself aquaplaning. However, in aircraft the tyres are very different and much the ‘water clearing’ is built into the tarmac runways surface (by grooves and camber) to international standards. This is achieved in the runway structure and is incredibly effective – hence we rarely hear of aquaplaning! Assuming a tyre pressure on the aircraft of 64psi, the aquaplane speed could occur at around 9 x √(64) or 72knots or 133km/hr. This speed is lower than the touchdown speed of many larger aircraft; therefore, in certain unique circumstances it is possible to aquaplane on touchdown. Thicker water layers and other factors will play into the equation, and the above are only ‘rule of thumb’ pilot calculations. One thing to note is that a locked tyre (one that has stopped spinning and the brake is still on) will continue to aquaplane down to around 7.7x√(tyre pressure in psi), or in the above case to 54kts or 99kph.

Other factors that can, and will, play into such an accident are ‘touch-down point’. If the aircraft touches down further into the runway, there is less runway left to roll-out on, and an increased chance of overshooting the runway. The same with coming in at a higher speed, or a tail-wind, poor brakes, tyre conditions and other factors that affect the landing-roll distance even on a good day with no rain.

The aircraft that landed in Accra was 727, which, on a still day, with dry surface, a density altitude of 2000feet (assuming temps of around 30C and 100% humidity) and all other things being equal, would normally land in around 1600m, and, according to the available data on the Boeing site, in a little under 2000m on a wet runway ( - look at the last diagrams).

Kotoka has a LDA (Landing Distance Available) of about 3000m when landing on runway 21. Therefore, it is clear that there is more at play here than just weather, but that the weather had a part to play in the accident.

With all of the science in the world, and all the facts that can be gleaned, we will never know the EXACT cause of the accident, but many of the contributing factors will come out, and it will make flying into Accra in inclement weather less hazardous for all, for that is the way aviation works.

What struck me most about this accident is the behaviour of our services and the wonderful people of Ghana. Despite the challenges of the weather, the emergency services and associated personnel, all appear to have handled this incident with deft professionalism that puts Ghana in a positive light in regards to reaction time and approach. By contrast, the accident in Nigeria resulted in complicated scenarios as they sought water to extinguish the flames, and experienced difficulties in accessing and securing the site.

Accidents do happen. It is how we react to it that sets us apart. Let us hope that the investigating comitee will come out with a detailed explanation of the causes, and recommendations that will be rapidly implemented by the authorities. In the meantime, it is clear that Ghana is an exceptional place with amazing people, seeking to grow as responsible citizens of Planet Earth and a safer, more robust, aviation industry for all to enjoy.

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, June 6, 2012

Photo of the week, June 6th 2012

Our sunrises and sunsets in West Africa are always special, just like the people who live here. The radiant, eye-candy-filled views coupled with the amazing contrasts and dramatic moments are all part of the fabric that makes West Africa so special. Photo courtesy of WAASPS Ltd.

Monday, June 4, 2012

June 4th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

We are told in our history lessons that ‘democracy was born in Ancient Greece’, and looking at today’s economics of the Euro, modern Greece is now giving it a good run for its money!

Greek mythology has some wonderful stories, and some with an aviation theme. The story of Daedalus, and his son Icarus, is one that always makes me smile – despite its scientific errors. For those who do not know the story, here is ‘Captain Yaw’s Paraphrased version for West Africa’:

‘Kojo, a talented artisan was asked by an important Chief to build a special prison, for a monster that tormented the people. One day the Chief used that same prison to incarcerate his own daughter. Kojo, helped the Chiefs daughter, Ama, to stage an escape, which really cheesed off the Chief. Kojo was arrested and then imprisoned in his own construction, along with his son Kwame, as the ultimate punishment.

Kojo knew that it was near impossible to escape from the prison without help on the outside, but he did not give up hope. Being a talented person, Kojo kept all the wax from his prison cell candles, and also collected feathers falling from the birds sitting on the prison wall. Over many months he created two pairs of wings, one for him and one for his son, to enable them to fly out of the prison.

Before leaping into the air first, Kojo warned Kwame not to fly too close to the sun, for it would melt the wax. Kojo flapped his feather laden arms and took off, flying low and slow towards a safe haven. Meanwhile, Kwame, his head filled with the excitement of flight, forgot the wise words and chose to fly higher and higher. Squealing with the delight of his new altitude, he failed to notice the wax melting and feathers falling, until, eventually, he plunged to his death beating his naked arms in an attempt to remain aloft.’

What a wonderful story, even if man cannot flap wings enough to fly, and the fact is, the higher you go the colder it gets! In fact, the air temperature reduces about 2C for every thousand feet you move upwards (then it stabilises at around -50C).

The original story is possibly based on some sort of fact, and there needed to be an explanation as to how the prisoners escaped, and that one was found dead near the prison, his head buried in the mud as if he had fallen out of the sky!

All the same, there is much to be learned from such an aviation story. The principle of taking heed of warnings. The principle of consequences, dire ones at that, for flying outside the design envelope. Perhaps the greatest lesson is ‘don’t build prisons for others that could be used for you!’

Another Greek Myth that chips away at my mind on regular basis, is that of Damocles Sword. Again, I prefer to use our local names, and some poetic licence, to get the story across.

‘The Nananom of a great tribe had a faithful servant, Kwabena. Kwabena was always proud to serve under his Nananom. One day, Kwabena told his Chief ‘You are so lucky to be in such a position, with so many things and people following you!’ The Chief asked, his head tilted to one side, ‘Would like my stool?’ Without hesitation, Kwabena nodding profusely accepted the offer.

At once Kwabena sat upon the Chief’s stool, and he was happy – for about five seconds. On the sixth second in ‘office’ he looked up, and there he saw a large, very sharp, ceremonial sword hanging above his head – held up by a single human hair.

Terrified, Kwabena called to the Chief, who was quickly walking away with a smile on his face. Turning around the chief said with a wry smile, ‘Be careful what you wish for, power and greatness always comes with a price and is more fragile than an egg.’

Envy of others is rarely justified if ALL the facts are known. There is no such thing as a ‘perfect place’, and it is certainly true that the more ‘benefits perceived’ are linked to ‘challenges, risks and dangers unseen’.

In both of these myths, the need for prudence is clear, as is the need to understand the hidden dangers.

In today’s economy and point in the political cycle, the metaphorical Sword of Damocles that resides above the head of every leader of enterprise, political leader or pretty much any other position, appears to sway in the wind, the hair holding it up appearing, every day, less secure.

Likewise, at these times the faithful servants appear to want more and more to hold the esteemed positions, generally not asking, but rather scheming towards their goal.

Would it not be fantastic to be able to ‘try out’ another position, to see the type of Sword of Damocles that sways above another’s head? Of course it would, but it would also prevent anybody ever starting a business or entering politics. Needless to say, if we could peek ahead at the risks and challenges of parenthood, the need for birth control promotion would be defunct as well!

Right now I am gearing up for a test flight, and I am really looking forward to it. Others say ‘are you scared when you fly a new aircraft for the first time?’ The temptation is to say ‘Go ahead, try it. Find out for yourself!’, but that would not be prudent – the aircraft may get damaged!

My Swords of Damocles (for I seem to have many) sit above my head, and I love them all. I look to them, study them and try to understand them. I embrace the challenges and dangers in my work. Admittedly there are times when it is wearisome, but I must say that, for me, I have the most enviable job in the world. There is no money. No power. But a magnificent sense of achievement daily. I guess that makes any Sword OK, because it is the one I have chosen and fully accepted its fragile tenure above my head. I wonder if those seeking the stool of others have understood the dangers hidden above that await their sixth second on the stool to be noticed!

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

Patricia Mawuli on CCTV

Patricai Mawuli... Instructor, Teacher, Pilot, Engineer... Just Amazing...

Link to the video if the flash player fails to load Patricia Mawuli