Monday, December 23, 2013

December 23rd, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Well, another year has all but gone, and this week there will be 'Seasons Greetings' galore. Many will celebrate Christmas, and New Year. Airports will be choked by the volumes of people travelling 'home for Christmas', and the passenger lounges will be decked with heathen decorations - colourful, and 'in the spirit of the season'. Millions of dollars will be spent on simply decorating our homes, workplaces, public places and, in some cases 'person' (reindeer headbands as seen in Accra!). However, much as we enjoy the frivolity of the events, do we really understand them? Do we really? 

 It is Jesus' birthday', say some (but it is not, there is no way that particular birth took place in December, all the scholars agree!). 'It is the season of goodwill', say others (let's hope so!). Many will be anticipating 'Santa Claus' arriving via a magic flying device called a sleigh, and then entering their home, without a warrant, to deposit gifts, taking some sips of drink and pastries prior to re-departing - via their chimney... (they will be disappointed, or an impostor will be there!)

As a pilot, I love the concept of improved, green, eco-engines such as reindeer. But before we get too excited, what is a reindeer - and can they fly?

A reindeer is like a big antelope. If you have seen the Kob (found in the North of Ghana), you will have seen something similar. The Kob weighs in at around 95kg for an adult male, compared to the hefty bulk of a 180kg adult reindeer! 

Stories about Santa tell us that he started off with eight flying reindeer engines. These eight did not feature the famous 'Rudolf', no, not at all. The eight reindeer engines were called Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen. Their names came from a poem by Clement C Moore in 1823 called 'A visit from St Nicholas'. The extra, lead, 9th reindeer, Rudolph was added after the 1939 story 'Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer', by Robert L May, which was the precursor to the popular, catchy, song, released ten years later.

Now, much as we understand that, with the increase of weight needing to be carried by Santa, an extra engine would be useful - it is the clear recognition that aircraft were populating the sky by the 1940s that lead to the need for Santa to have a navigation light. It is therefore, obvious that the 9th reindeer had to be equipped with a glowing red nose to meet the Aviation Authorities requirements of the day. It all adds to the credibility of the flying reindeer and Santa's Sleigh...

STOP. STOP. STOP. Seriously, do you think that I would actually subscribe to that! Hogwash. Reindeer cannot fly - even if they farted full pelt, continuously, and loudly they cannot attain the thrust and/or lift to fly. Imagine the 9 x 180kg, plus Santa (an easy 120kg man), plus toys for a few million kids, even at 0.5kg each, we now have an aircraft with a MTOW (Maximum Take Off Weight) of Brobdingnagian proportions (thank you Jonathan Swift for adding such a magnificent word to the English language in 1726 - now, if you don't know it, go and look it up for holiday homework - it is a real word in the dictionary!).

I love the imagination of Santa, the colours, the story, the 'naughty or nice list', tons of gifts, pies, sweets, more sweets... but I do wonder if we have pushed this story just a little bit too far.

Santa Claus did not fly in the original story. No. He was Nikolaos of Myra, in South Western Turkey about 1700 years ago. He did a lot of good things for the people - and was so well appreciated for all that he did that, after his death, he was 'made' the Patron Saint for sailors, children, unmarried girls... and some others too! There was no sleigh, no flying, no mystical humbug - no big decorations, no reindeer antlers in the shops. All of the extra stuff was added to make the story more sexy, acceptable to the various cultures and peoples who absorbed the concept, and, of course, much more commercial.

The original good deeds of this man, who had a passion for humanity, and those in need, has become a multi-million dollar exploitation, that churches, politics and the general population have bought into. Yes, it is fun. Yes, it is exciting. Yes, it does make for a good story. Yes, it is good for general moral. Yes, everybody likes the idea. Yes, yes, yes - I enjoy Christmas too. But I don't appreciate the commercialisation of it. Even Santa's red navigation light is fun, but please, don't believe that GCAA is going to give Santa a Permit to Fly for a nine flatulent-reindeer-powered, mega-tonne aircraft in Ghana! Nope. It ain't gonna happen. We have regulations for these things, and there is no provision for this sort of thing!

What I do believe can happen this week, is that each and every one of us can change a life, we can all make some 'magic' happen in somebody's life. We don't need to be able to fly. We don't need to dress in red and white - and wear a beard. We don't need to even spend a load of cash on some glitzy prize. No. We can open our hearts, smile at one another, offer a word of encouragement and give the biggest gift we can to our part of the world - caring, support, encouragement, inspiration - they are priceless. Smile, hug, embrace our differences and change the course of history!

Just remember, you are only truly rich when you have something that money cannot buy.

Seasons Greetings to all of you, and may 2014 soon be here with so many things that money cannot buy, as we join hands in embracing a New Year with all of its potential!

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

Monday, December 16, 2013

December 16th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

I must admit that I have been amazed at the interest in 'knowledge with understanding' of the last couple of editions of FAM. Such interest in this column comes not just from Ghana, but also from the 'more developed nations' too. It appears, based on anecdotal evidence and discussions, that those who were educated in the 1950 to 1985 bracket, had a far more 'sustainable' education than those who come after, especially in Europe and the USA. In West Africa, of course, we have other issues within those time frames, issues related to independence, coup d'états, political, economic and civil unrest, which have created holes in the overall education of those at school during those troubled years - and consequently teachers who were 'at school' during those times. 

It seems that 'post-war' Europe/America, had an amazing push towards 'functional education'. It was education with, meaning, discipline, order, a passion to rebuild nations that had suffered extreme challenges - the 'Dunkirk spirit' of education and subsequently, production of workers. (Dunkirk is a coastal town in France where a massive evacuation/rescue for over 300,000 troops took place; against incredible odds, troops and civilians worked together to save and change lives. The 'Dunkirk spirit' is a term used for when a group of people pull together to beat a problem that seems almost impossible to overcome.) 

Many of those post-war teachers had been working in the armed forces or in industry during the war. They knew the struggle - but they also had a skills set that was appreciated. They knew how to make 'something positive out of nothing'. Many passed on their personal stories of struggle and conflict in the classroom - telling their own stories of overcoming challenges to their students. I remember one particular teacher, from when I was about eight years old - Mr Bendall - he inspired me so much. Mr Bendall would start almost every day with 'Good Morning Class. This morning we will begin with a story.' Then, as the class echoed his trademark 'opener' under their breath, he would start...'When I was in the army....', we laughed about it, but the stories were wild - and we listened. Travel, engineering, helping people - changing lives, and his life being touched. I cannot remember each and every story today, but I remember the man; the inspiration! His spirit of inspiration, hard work, determination and discipline has stuck with me to this day. He was an older teacher, and was labelled as 'strict'. He scared us a little bit too! It did us no harm. He never hit us, he had perfect control of his classroom, because he knew his subject matter and made it come to life! Although we were only eight, we were doing maths for fourteen year olds in his class - and we loved it! We covered history and geography in the Technicolor of first hand experiences of our mentor. He had us making things, telling stories - he used books, a chalkboard, a globe, an atlas - and bucket loads of inspiration. We did not have wonderful resources in our school - but we had the most important of all of them - a large dose of inspired imagination, and we were allowed - actually encouraged - to use it!.

What happened after 1985 then? Well, it appears that politics took a much bigger interest in education. Computers. Mobile phones. Media explosion. Colour TV. Consumerism. Need I go on?

Imagination and inspiration were taken out of the equation. It all became about 'ticking the boxes'. Teachers had to stick to strict subject delivery matter, with no deviation, in line with the 'progressive governments ideas of the day'. Pass rates became more important than people skills. Passing the exam became more important than understanding the subject matter. Earning money, to be able to enter the world of consumerism, became more important than enjoying ones life as a socially contributing citizen of a nation. National Pride was eroded. Visiting, and chatting face-to-face, became replaced by the telephone. Chats about life skills, employment and making up stories to entertain, became overtaken by the discussions about the latest soaps on television. Morals became eroded by the media 'white-washing' of standards. Parents had to now both work to meet the needs of the day - they needed two (colour) televisions and a second car... own a house and go on holiday twice a year. Latchkey kids became the norm. TV became the baby sitter. Computers and consoles were places to hide, instead of tree houses or the 'camp in the back garden'. Our real values and lives were snatched away, replaced with electronics and hype - and with it, our humanity has been eroded. Does that sound familiar?

Sadly, we are now in a cycle where the 'new teachers' did not know a teacher who really inspired them - told them stories and lit a flame of ambition to change the world. So, they are less likely to find the inspiration to bring about change. The modern teacher is caught in a world of 'exams and pass marks' - the quality of the inspired human being has been lost.

With it, the apparent need to understand what we learn, to think about how we apply that knowledge has been diluted. Our ambition in life is focused on 'certificates' and not on 'life experiences, hands-on knowledge and ability'. We have deluded our youth into thinking that a certificate is a measure of success. It is not, it is simply a piece of paper. Success is something you obtain in the real world, ability to do - something not on offer in the classroom.

Much as I use computers in my daily work - whether writing, doing spreadsheets, drawing, controlling robots, or in flight, I still know how to do each and every task manually. I am not 'only able to use a computer'. I have the skills to do the job without the computer too. Yes, I feel like a dinosaur. A Tyrannosaurus Rex, waiting for extinction of my kind to befall us unless something changes in the educational climate. 

What I can see, is that more and more people (generally the better educated ones) are resorting to home schooling - and with fantastic results. Of course, it is the 'dinosaurs' who are working at preserving the last of their kind - real human beings with a real desire to ensure that working ethic and deep understanding of knowledge, coupled with being a decent human being, is preserved.  

It was with a big smile that I read about the young man admitted to Oxford University at the age of six (yes, six years old!). He started reading at the age of two, and had the reading age of a sixteen year old by his fourth birthday. Who, by the age of eight is knowledgeable in many aspects of the human body, and makes presentations to adult groups. He wants to be surgeon, but is currently studying philosophy and mathematics... He was raised in the UK - and he is of black African origin. His parents just gave him the opportunities to learn, without the pressure of exams - and with lots of playing and being a normal kid as well. It worked - he learned because he a) wanted to, and b) was given the opportunity.

We need a change... we need inspiration... we need real, applicable knowledge... and, we need it sooner rather than later.

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

Monday, December 9, 2013

December 9th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

I was recently asked how I remember, and apply, many different things. The answer is: I learn. Many people think that 'teaching' is the most important part of any training institution. No, teaching is not actually important at all. Learning is.

In certain instances Teaching and Learning can go together. But, if teaching takes place without any learning, then it is a waste of energy and time. Learning can, and often does, take place without teaching being present. Therefore, the key to knowing things, and being able to do things with that knowledge, lies in being an active learner.

As a lecturer in the UK, I tried hard to ensure that the only thing that would definitely take place in any of my lecture theatres, labs, or workshops, was learning. I try hard to avoid teaching, and harder to ensure that learning is on the menu - all day, everyday. To that end I focus on becoming a 'facilitator of learning'. 

The image of a 'teacher' who stands at the front of the room and pontificates is common. They spout endlessly, expecting you to take notes, to remember word-for-word what they want you to know, and to regurgitate that information, word perfect, in response to an exam question. Such 'teachers' are thrilled if you can remember, tape-recorder like, what they say, and if you do, you will be called a 'good student'. Sorry, that is the biggest lie about life that you have been sold. It is a fault ridden and archaic sham. Time for a blast of compressed air to clear that 'Complete Rubbish Applied Professionally' out of the system. We don't want parrots. We need thinkers who know what they are thinking about! 

A 'facilitator of learning' enables and encourages 'learning to take place'. We must be more interested in the principles of the topic being absorbed, in a useable manner, by the learners than anything else. Facts being learned off by heart, that cannot be applied practically, have no use - and are generally forgotten the day after the exam. Being able to identify ONE drawing of a cloud type (the drawing used in the exam) has zero value. Being able to look at the sky and describe the ever changing dome of atmospheric delights that is above us - and then being able to explain dynamically, and in a language that all can understand, what the causes and effects of such clouds are, is a treasure found in the spirit of learning. If we have learned something, it should come naturally to our mind and mouth, for the rest of our lives, as if walking, breathing or eating. A learned topic is PART of us. It becomes integral to our very being.

I am blessed to be a pilot, where learning is key to survival! Pilots must be one with their machines, they can't afford to recite facts to the controls - they must feel, react, understand and interact with the aircraft, the air - and the planets surface! There is no 'well I got 50% of it right, so I pass'! We would never consider airlines 'acceptable' if they always brought at least 50% of their passengers to destination 'safely'... Now, take that logic to the classroom! 

Who taught you speak? I know that nobody taught you the 'naughty words'. You learned far more than you were taught, and remembered the things that you learned without teaching far more than anything else. Why? It was attractive to your ears. It sounded fun. You were drawn to it. You remember stories and tales more than dry facts...

So, let's try to make chemistry interesting enough for us all to learn, rather than be taught. 

Let me introduce to some really tiny friends of mine. 

I have a group of friends with four arms. Yes, they all have four arms and hands! Can you imagine, they can hold four other hands at once. Amazing, isn't it. It is not often that you see such people. They are very dark in colour. I call them 'Carbon', each of them has the same name, I call each one of them individually C. 

I have another group of friends with only one arm and hand, they are very light - and have an explosive nature. These friends are called 'Hydrogen', or H for short. They hang about in pairs, holding hands, called H2 - Hydrogen gas.

Another group of friends have two arms and hands, and are a breath of fresh air to meet, although they have corrosive personalities, and they love to interact with others, they are called 'Oxygen', or O. Oxygen tend to move around in pairs, holding both hands of each other - when they do that we call them O2 or Oxygen gas. Whenever you see fire, you know they will be around, interacting with whatever they can.

None of these friends like walking around without holding hands. They love to hold hands. Whenever they hold one hand to another, we call it a bond. Some bonds are stronger than others, but they can all be broken - making or breaking a bond involves energy. 

When we put Carbon and Hydrogen together, they have a party, and form chains if they can. When our Carbon friends hold hands with our Hydrogen friends we call them 'Hydrocarbons'! One Carbon can hold four Hydrogen hands - when they do that we call them CH4, or Methane! If two Carbons get together with some Hydrogen, they use one hand each to hold on to them selves and have three Hydrogen's each around them. We call that C2H6 or Ethane! As you can imagine, these Carbons have some crazy parties and create long chains of Carbon, all holding Hydrogen's hands around them - for example C10H22 is called Decane. 

Most people in Ghana purchase a lot of hydrocarbons, the longer chains are found in petrol and diesel for our cars, but the shorter chains are better for cooking with. The preferred one for cooking has three carbons in a chain with eight hydrogen holding on around them. This is called Propane. We purchase it from the gas station in a bottle, compressed into a liquid. That liquid is called LPG (Liquid Propane Gas). Now the real fun begins.

If we set fire to some of these Propane (C3H8) hydrocarbons, in the presence of some of our Oxygen friends, then their is a fight. In that fight a lot of heat is released - and light. We call that release of heat and light together 'a flame' - and it will 'set fire' to the next carbon chain it can until they are no longer available (when we switch off the gas). We can, and do, use it to cook with. But what happens to our friends? Well, Carbon and Hydrogen let go of each other and pal up with Oxygen. Since Carbon has four hands each and oxygen two, they make a team of one Carbon to two Oxygen, called Carbon di-oxide or CO2. The Hydrogen atoms also want to party with the Oxygen and two Hydrogen hold hands with one Oxygen to make 'H2O' - which we also call 'water' - but it is hot, so it comes off as water vapour! 

So, when we light the gas to heat water in the kitchen tomorrow morning, remember what is really happening - and now you have a greater understanding of hydrocarbons and how they burn to produce carbon dioxide and water! Let me know if that was more fun than how you were taught in school - or if you have a better story!

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

Monday, December 2, 2013

December 2nd, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Once again, this past week I have been challenged by the (lack of quality) output of retained education around us. There are some bits of general knowledge that are supposed to be, well, GENERAL. That means that 'generally people should know it'. There are some questions that raise more questions than answers. Many of them may appear a little out of the ordinary, but frankly each of the questions we will look at this, and in coming weeks are relevant to our world, and our ability to understand not only where we have all come from, but where we are going. Generally, knowledge is about to be gained by some, and to be remembered or just checked off by others. Whatever it is, please ask some of these questions to your family, staff and especially to children and young people - and share the answers to ensure that learning takes place!

1. Where are the pyramids?

2. What is a volcano?

3. What is the composition of earths atmosphere?

Ok, so, how did you do? Maybe, as a regular reader of this newspaper you knew all three! But before you read the answers below, ask them to a few people around you....

1. Egypt is the country most renowned for its Pyramids. Many people I have spoken to do not seem to be aware that Egypt really is a country in (North) Africa. (They know that Egyptians play football though!). Interestingly, there are actually more pyramids, over 220, but generally smaller and more recently constructed, in Sudan (also an African country), but the Egyptian ones (less than 140 of them), are the most famous. Other pyramid structures are found around the world, and some which have been constructed in the last few years can be found, such as the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach California. When we refer to 'the pyramids' we generally refer to those ancient constructions found in Egypt. But what are the pyramids? They are massive, monument structures in the geometric shape of a pyramid! A geometric pyramid is a three dimensional shape with triangular sides, meeting to form a point at their apex. It can have three or more sides to its base. Four sided, or a square base, pyramids are the most common. They probably, originally, had a religious value in relation to worship of the Sun, and are shaped in reference to the rays of the sun. There are many mathematical, scientific and symbolic components - and they represent amazing engineering achievements in the many centuries before mechanisation! They were often used for burial chambers for the Pharaohs/Kings of the time, and although built a long time ago, are still amongst the largest constructions on the planet. The tallest Egyptian Pyramid is that of Cheops, also known as the Great Pyramid of Giza with a height of nearly 500ft - built around 2560BC! For the record it took thousands of years before a taller structure was built. What is most amazing is that 3500 years on, this building is still standing and still awe-inspiring. Oh, and for the record, the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt AFTER the pyramids were built, and that debunks many of the Hollywood movies stories (which I only recently learned were incorrect) about Hebrew slaves being used to build the Pyramids. But that is another story!

2. This question was sparked by the apparent construction of model volcanoes at roundabouts in Accra. I asked 'what are they doing putting volcano models in Accra for? To which so many people asked me 'what is a volcano?'... Surely, this is a standard learning material in primary schools about understanding our planet? Anyway... A volcano is a 'pressure relief valve' for the hot rock under the surface of the planet. We all live on a ball of hot dense materials. The earth is built up of layers, rather like an onion. We know that the core of the planet is much denser than the surface - we can calculate it quite easily, but not today. We live on the outer or surface layer called the crust. Below the crust there are pockets of molten rock which are quite close to the surface layer. As pressure builds in these so called 'magma chambers' it can burst upwards, spewing hot rock, ash and steam into the atmosphere above. Over time the hot rock cools and forms a cone shaped structure, with a crater at the top - which is where the next 'release of pressure' will come from. When a volcano throws out hot rock (lava), etc. it called an 'eruption'. Volcanoes erupt around the world on a fairly regular basis. One in Hawaii has been erupting for about 30 years, streaming molten rock into the sea - and still going! During strong, expulsive eruptions large quantities of volcanic dust can be ejected many thousands of feet into the air, and can affect aircraft navigation and even reduce surface temperatures through the dust cloud blocking the sun's rays from reaching earth. For the record, the core of our planet contains a lot of iron. Without the massive iron core of our planet, we would die. Our iron core provides the magnetic field that helps keep our atmosphere around us and protects us from many threats from solar activity. It also provides the field that allows our navigation compasses to work - and probably the source of navigation for the migratory animals on the planet

Understanding that volcanoes exist, and the inherence to all that keeps us alive, is important general knowledge.

3. The most common answer I get to this question is 'Oxygen'. WRONG. The atmosphere of planet earth is approximately 78% nitrogen (N2), 21% Oxygen (O2), 0.95% Argon (Ar) and 0.05% Carbon Dioxide (CO2) - plus some tiny amounts of other gases such as ozone, methane, neon and helium. It is one of the amazing things about the planet earth - it keeps its atmosphere, its water, oxygen, etc, without it blowing away in the solar winds that ravage the space all around us, thanks to that dense 'rich-in-iron core' structure of our planet. The belief that we breath 'oxygen' is clearly false, because if the atmosphere on earth were pure oxygen we would soon be engulfed by raging fires and metal structures would corrode faster that ever - possibly sparking away like fireworks! It is the relatively high percentage of Nitrogen gas in our atmosphere that balances the oxygen that we need, as we breathe, and keeps us alive. Breathing 'only oxygen' can result in death, as can 'no oxygen', we need just the right amount! Underwater divers, who breathe special mixtures of Oxygen and Nitrogen called Nitrox, need special training to identify and avoid 'Oxygen poisoning'! Pilots must adjust their oxygen supplies based on altitude and supply method to avoid health issues - even death. Yes, oxygen can kill you!

We only fear what we do not understand, and if we do not hold a good grasp of our maths, science and history, we are handicapped in our ability to progress.

Share some knowledge today - and seek out the implications of it all!

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

Monday, November 25, 2013

November 25th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Most of the world's news channels have enjoyed the story of the Boeing Dreamlifter landing at the wrong airport last week. Boeing's modified 747 cargo plane - reputedly the most voluminous cargo plane on the planet - is used to carry 787 Dreamliner aircraft parts from one factory to another. Whilst on one of its delivery runs, the pilots mistook one airport for another, and landed in the wrong place - about 16 kilometres away from their intended destination. Not a big deal, except that the runway where they landed was a tad on the short side. Aircraft need to have enough runway to land - and take off again. Generally, landing uses less runway than taking off. The runway at which this misfortuned crew landed was officially 'too short' for the aircraft to depart from, based on the 'handbook'. To make matters worse, the aircraft needed a special ground handling vehicle to facilitate its manoeuvring - just turning such a large aircraft is a challenge - made more challenging by the very narrow, relatively speaking, runway that they had put down on. At the airport where they landed no such vehicle was available. Not a big deal, just drive one up from the actual destination - just a 16km jaunt... except that that vehicle broke down on the way to the rescue! It should be noted that even at its top speed the support team would take over an hour to go the distance. All part of the adventure and learning process - and nobody got hurt, and no damage done - at least to the team involved. Apparently, some cars ran into each other on the main road near the airport, when drivers were distracted by the sight of such a large aircraft on the tarmac! 

Finally, the tug arrived, the aircraft was positioned and some careful calculations later the massive 'whale of the air' departed on, what may well be, the shortest flight of a 747 in the history of cargo flight - from one of the shortest runways! The accidental runway was only 2000m long - about 1000m shorter than would be acceptable for a 'recommended departure'. A fresh crew were flown in to make the trip (a big word for a 16km flight with 5km of runway involved between the two aerodromes), and they carried out a lot of calculations to make sure that their departure would be safe. All the same, the police did close down nearby roads in case of the aircraft being rather low over the road, and to avoid any more 'distracted driver accidents'. All in all, a rescue mission that worked, without incident, and ends this particular story of 'wrong place landing' with a smile. It is a nice story about aviation that has grabbed the worlds attention, and diverted it from the more depressing news of the week.

In all honesty, landing at the wrong airport is not totally unexpected. Especially in places where airports are pretty close together. In Ghana you would be hard pressed to mistake Kumasi for Accra or Takoradi for Wa! They are far apart, and totally different in appearance. In some parts of the world the airport density is high - and the runways can even be aligned - I have misidentified airports in the past - but not landed at the wrong one - YET! From the sky, especially in reduced visibility, it can be easy to mistake one for another - it really can. In the past, a passenger aircraft from the USA has over-flown its expected destination of Paris, France - and landed in Brussels, Belgium by mistake! Well, the pilots fell asleep and woke up looking at the wrong country! It is always embarrassing when mistakes like this occur - and even more so in aviation - because we expect aviators to 'always get it right'. It is worth noting that aviators do generally get it right, and therefore, when they get it wrong, it makes news. What is worth noting in this case is 'they got it wrong, they admitted their mistakes, they fixed it, nobody and nothing was damaged' (well, apart from a bank balance and some egos!). Best of all, they shared it with the world to learn from!

In the newsworthy story of the big-Boeing, there is much to learn. The radio transcript clearly indicates the crew and air traffic teams were questioning the airport - but the 'false positives' for the pilot and his first officer were enough for them to commit to their mistake. We have all had this happen to us. We think that all the signs are right, that we are on the right road, the people around us are making the right noises - and then we realise 'uh uh' we got it wrong. Driving around central Accra is always like that for me! Never base your navigation in Accra around the Kofi Brokeman sellers - they all look the same!

We have all taken a wrong turn - physical, mental or financial - and the key to recovery and a safe return to normal operations is 'identification of the error'. The sooner we identify the error and take corrective action, the better. At times we have committed to an error and have to land (hopefully without incident). Then we need to plan the 'departure from the wrong place in our lives'. It cannot be rushed - we will have to spend some time in the 'wrong place', we must call upon our friends to come with their tugs to help us reposition ourselves ready for take off. We must make our calculations for a safe departure - and we may have to manage the potential risks from having to use a runway that is not as long as we would like. We may have to change our crew around us - or even reduce our load enough to ensure safe operations. Most importantly, we must continue to head towards our destination - and never accept that landing 16km short is 'good enough'. We must push on, keep our aims and ambitions clear in our minds, overcome the challenges, make it happen - and then look back and learn how to avoid such a thing happening again.

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

Friday, November 22, 2013

Photo of the week November 20th, 2013

Patricia Mawuli (left) , pilot, flight instructor, engineer and role model, as well as Principal at the AvTech Academy, hands well earned certificates of experience to (from left to right) Fauzia Doe Kuebunya, Bernice Klutse and Mary Soda. These youngsters have spent the past three months living, working and learning at Kpong Airfield in the Eastern Region. Having hands on experience in jobs from mowing runways through basic woodwork, painting to engine servicing and CNC production to radio operations has widened their horizons and made them much more confident individuals. They have, alongside, covered a number of related technical topics including principles of flight, meteorology and engine components. 

In 2014 the non-flying training operations at Kpong will be focused on one day courses, for teachers, lecturers and students interested in using aviation and engineering to promote learning in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). To find out more please contact

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

November 18th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Aviation is full 'catch phrases', we use them to assist us in matters of safety and promoting good judgement. One of my personal favourites is 'A superior pilot uses his superior judgement to avoid demonstrating his superior skills'. It means that a pilot who may well be able to fly his aircraft in heavy weather, or manage an aircraft with a defect, is smart enough to make the decision not to fly, or to land as soon as possible, in such conditions, thus avoiding the need to use 'superior skills'. It is a also a warning to those who may try to 'show off', without the skills to underpin their exploits. It reassures us that a 'no-go', or 'time to land', decision is the decision of a superior pilot, not a coward or a wimp. I remember being on a KLM flight out of Amsterdam, bound for Ghana, that was cancelled due to extremely strong winds, the team at KLM took a 'superior' decision - even if it was not a popular one - in the interest of protecting the lives of the passengers, crew and aircraft. All the same, the passengers went into 'riot mode' with cries of 'it is only wind'. Sadly, such persons failed to grasp the damage that wind can do - and perhaps did not value their lives as much as the pilot did! The decision to ground the aircraft was taken to protect, to keep the aircraft in a safe place, and then to resume operations once the storm was over. Such decisions are tough, economically damaging in the short term, but are taken to ensure the long term sustainability of the aircraft, airline and protect all of their passengers - as well as the crew. Some will be upset, some may bad mouth the airline - but at the end of the day 'they are alive' because of a 'superior' decision. To paraphrase the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, 'it is better to be a live donkey than a dead lion'.

There are other expressions that come to mind, not necessarily associated with aviation, but definitely related to living and working in West Africa.

'Don't listen to them, it is only Phd'. The famous 'Pull him/her down'. This is one of the most destructive attitudes that I have come across anywhere in the world. It is incredibly prevalent in certain cultures, and sadly it prevents all from developing positively. It is the desire of those 'who do not have or have not achieved' to damage the reputation of those who have or are trying to. It is often driven by jealousy, lack of understanding, as well as, in many cases, sexism. The ability to attack others, without rhyme or reason, just to try to stop them achieving, because of sour grapes, or simple jealousy, is the basis of the Phd mentality. Recently, Lydia Forson wrote an article about how 'successful women are insulted with the terms prostitute and you will never marry'. It was a classic story of how somebody will readily attack you verbally, attempt to tarnish your name and cast dispersions on your character - just because you have success. When it comes to pulling down the achievements of women, you can add to that list of pointless insults 'lesbian and witch' - and I am sure that successful women out there have a list of other derogatory terms used on them on a regular basis. It appears that the jealousy factor is such that these terms are bounded about to 'destroy' or 'pull down' a successful woman. Women can achieve by hard work, determination and, at the same time, 'preserve their virtue'. Ghana has a wealth of 'Women of Worth', yet it has orders of magnitude more 'Phd-ers' - many of whom appear to target women far more than men. 'Watch out for the Phd!' is wise advice, yet even for the most able and diligent people, the insults and attacks for rising above the status quo are wearing and distracting. 

'No good deed goes unpunished' is an old adage, and as true today as it was a thousand years ago. It appears that when you help somebody out, you will often feel 'punished for it'. We are all aware of this reality on our roads. Imagine you are driving from Accra to Tema one evening and see a man lying on the side of the motorway. He looks dead. In the second and a half he is visible in your car lights you cannot tell. He probably fell from a truck that he was sleeping on the top of... My guess is that the following will run through your mind in a few seconds...

'I should stop and see if I can help.'
'If I do is it a trap? Are there armed robbers around?'
'If I try to help, will I be accused of knocking him down, or even killing him?'
'If the police come along, and then there is a court case, and I am a witness, how many court appearances will it take?'
'Will I be asked for bribes if I help out?'
'If he is alive and I send him to the hospital, who will pay his hospital bill?'#
'If he is dead what could I do?'
'Will the family of this person end up hounding me for money for care, just because of being a good Samaritan?'

So, you slow down, looking for a way to pull over, but the other traffic is fast on your tail, their lights blazing and horns blaring, the decision would no doubt be made: - 'I cannot stop safely, and have to hope that somebody else will.' You sense relief at not helping, because you are more likely to be 'punished' than 'thanked' for helping out.

Why? Because we have all experienced our good deeds being punished. How many times have you helped somebody, only to wonder 'WHY?' a little further on. Nobody helps for the 'thanks', but we don't set out to help in order to be 'punished'.

All the same, we all hope that others will do some good deeds for us, and when they do, we must make sure that we do not punish them for showing humanitarian care and support.  

At the end of the day, we must all make decisions, tough decisions, always based on promoting each other, within the framework that we can, physically, financially and emotionally. I guess that is all part of 'being a superior pilot' and taking decisions that may be unpopular, but that ultimately ensure that there are more 'live donkeys than dead lions'.

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, November 13, 2013

Photo of the week November 13th, 2013

How do we define a community? Here we see three distinct 'micro-districts' in a small community. How did they develop? Why did they form that way? Why do some have metal roofing and others not? Where do they get their water from? How do they charge their mobile phones? Indeed, do they have any mobile phones? West Africa has so many communities where these questions must be asked - whether you count this particular collection of around sixty homes in the Volta region as one, two or three, they are infra-structurally isolated, and are working to find their way towards socio-economic sustainability. Photo courtesy of Medicine of the Move

Monday, November 11, 2013

November 11th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

'The harvest is plenty, but the workers are few', is a well quoted verse, but never before has it been so relevant than in our world today. Do note that this quote does not state 'the people are few', no, it states emphatically that the 'workers' or 'labourers' are few. There are always plenty of people around, but, it seems, never enough ready and willing to work diligently enough to achieve the bringing in of the harvest, efficiently, reliably, economically and in a timely manner. It appears increasingly rare to find any leader of industry to be confident of their human capital resources. It appears that much of the lack of growth in the economies of the world is directly linked to finding the right calibre of worker, or trainee ready to learn what it takes.

In aviation the needs are very specific, the training expensive, the lead time from 'start to useable' long, and the number of people ready to make the sacrifices necessary to succeed in the industry 'few'. Airbus and Boeing have full order books, there is the constant need for qualified personnel at all levels, from the cargo handlers to the 'honey dippers' from the pilots to the air traffic controllers. All the same, those willing to WORK in their position are, it seems, increasingly few. A lot of the challenges appear to be related to the 'attitude to work'.

What makes a good worker? One who is timely, willing, reliable, honest, ready to learn, happy to be at work, pleasant to work with, knowledgeable, ready to share their skills and knowledge, and I am sure that we can all add to our list of 'good worker qualities'. Now that we have that list, how many of them apply to ourselves? Hmmm! That is more of a challenge! Perhaps it is a worthwhile exercise to give a list of qualities to your staff or colleagues, and ask them to rate the 'importance of each skill' from 1 to 5. Then, ask each of them to rate themselves in each of the qualities using the same scale. Finally, ask them to rate each other! It will, without doubt, quickly emerge that 'good workers' are hard to come by.

I think that, for me, the five most important attributes of a good worker are 'honesty', 'timely', 'cheerful', 'pleasant to work with' and 'willing to learn'.

There is nothing worse than working with somebody you cannot trust. They say one thing, and then do another. They ignore you when you speak, leaving you wondering what is going on in their heads. They fail to make eye contact with you, and you are left wondering if they are ready to respond in an emergency - or will they be a liability in such a scenario.

Timeliness is critical to the success of any operation. There is nothing worse than being ready to roll, and waiting for the person who is walking slowly up the road, knowing full well that they are behind schedule, not giving a hoot about who it affects. I admit, we are all late at times, but the 'timely' person will be seen to be trying to make the deadline, even if they have issues with transport or personal challenges. Making the effort to be timely is the first step towards achieving it. Of course, in the West African context, timeliness is a challenge - yet the mobile phone goes, so often, unused to express to those waiting that 'one is running late'.

A cheerful worker is wonderful thing. I hate the poo-poo faced workers. C'mon people, we have to work, so lets be cheerful about it. It may be a smelly job, but it is a job, we have a harvest to get in, and we can do it with our chins in our boots, or our smiles at our eyes. I know which one is the most pleasant to work with, and I know which one is more likely to get rewarded by management as well as co-workers. At the toll booths in Ghana it is rare to get a big smile and a 'thank you', but when you do it lifts you up for the whole day! Imagine how much more the workers in offices and factories can improve the working conditions, if they stop complaining and start rejoicing at having work, and the opportunity to do it cherfully!

When you work with somebody who is ready to learn, it is fantastic. They want to absorb knowledge, to better themselves, to make progress in their personal understanding of their work and the world in general. When you have a colleague who is not interested in learning any new tasks or even just some general knowledge, it is depressing. We all have the capacity to learn more - to understand more - but when you find a 'closed vessel' you realise that you are wasting your time investing in them.

These are only a few attributes of the 'worker of merit', but even with just these five, success should be just around the corner. Ah, what does that mean? It takes years to build confidence, gain knowledge and climb the tree of life. So many workers lack the skill of patience and expect everything to come to them 'now now now'. It does not work that way. It takes many years of working at the bottom of the tree before you can rise up a few branches. One thing is certain though, and that is 'a positive, honest and hardworking worker, will climb quicker than others'. 

Back to our 'honey dipper'. You may not know what 'the honey dipper' is in aviation. The honey dipper is the person who empties the toilet waste tanks on the airliners. It is, without doubt, one of the least glamorous jobs in the industry. Here is a conversation that, reportedly, took place at one airport.

Consultant: 'I am carrying out an employee satisfaction survey. How do you enjoy your job?'

HoneyDipper (with a big smile on their face): 'The pay is really bad. The hours are unsociable. I get covered in other peoples waste products. I go home smelling bad at the end of the day. I don't even get any perks from the airlines.'

Consultant (wafting the air in front of their nose): 'If it is that bad, why don't you quit?'

HoneyDipper (looking at a 747 taking off and smiling as his eyes track the metal bird across the sky): 'WHAT! Give up working in aviation? You have to be joking, I get paid to be around things that I love, and I help to ensure that every airline passenger has a pleasant flight. Change jobs? You have to be crazy!'

How we look at our employment changes how we work. Working in something that pleases us above seeking financial reward is key. Perhaps with a better outlook the real, worthwhile, workers would be many more.

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, November 6, 2013

Photo of the week November 6th, 2013

Ease of access to remote communities is directly related to health, education and economic development. This 'bridge' in the Konobo district of Liberia shows the conditions that are still widely found across West Africa. In many ways this community is fortunate enough to have even this limited access. 

So many of our communities are infrastructurally isolated - not always even in need of a bridge, perhaps in need of just a basic access road that is commutable even in the rainy season. To paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, 'Ghana lives in her villages, not in her cities' and 'If the village perishes, Ghana perishes too'. What are you doing to ensure that the villages of Ghana move towards infrastructural integration and support towards our indigenous production of food stuffs and other items? Photo courtesy of David Pablo Cohn

Monday, November 4, 2013

November 4th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

As a teenager, I made enquires regarding joining the British Royal Air Force, at the recruitment centre in Brighton. I was quickly told by the recruitment officer 'NO WAY'. His reasons were, I am sad to say, valid. Asthmatic, compromised spinal column, recently undergone five major surgeries, and let's be fair, not really physically acceptable. The recruitment officer could not get away from me quickly enough - I am sure he even shook his head at the idea that I could ever fly! It was one of those days when, as a young person, you grasp a door handle 'wondering if it will open'. Well, the RAF's door didn't even vibrate, let only open a crack! It did, however, set something else in motion. 

That was one of those days that could have knocked me down for the count, but it didn't, it was, for me, a machining moment. It removed a piece of metal from my corporal billet, and made a little round corner instead of a 'what can that area become' part of my life. A closed door can be a good thing, a directionally guiding thing, in one's life.

Having spent two years in a very strict public school, on a scholarship, I had learned to embrace the structure and discipline that the services represent. Those two years had more of a formative effect on my life than any other two year period. I learned so much about internationalism, varying cultures, the need for discipline and the need to learn from every moment of your life.

I am a firm believer in rules, discipline, in the concept of drill, organised bodies, structure, physical training, maintenance culture, chain of command and 'order'. Such an environment is not unique to the world of the armed forces - and nor should it be. The wonderful thing about aviation (non-military) is that it also requires the concepts of order - to the nth degree. Aviation requires the very same discipline as any force, and there is no escaping the parallels. The difference, ultimately, is the purpose for which we fly. The skills sets are not very different, the 'life on the line' component is the same, in many instances, as is the 'responsibility for others'.

A well managed airfield has a 'military look' to it. The order, the regulations, the adherence to standards. Of course, the military had a great deal of input to aviation historically too - but it took them some time.

In 1903, when the Wright Brothers made their historical flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the military of the day 'were not impressed', frankly, they were not even interested! These machines were seen as 'gadgets' and 'a flash in the pan' - horses and motor vehicles were 'the future' in the military minds of the day. The Wright Brothers could envisage military uses, and realised that Government contracts would boost their fledgling industry. Sadly, their approaches to American authorities of the day were treated, it appears, with contempt. In fact they spent two whole years trying to get Government on board, without success. Consequently, in 1908, they travelled to France to make demonstrations - and to dispel rumours that they 'did not really have a flying machine that worked'. The Europeans loved the concept of Aviation - Santos Dumont was already working with his Demoiselle and Louis Blériot was working on his own designs, taking inspiration from the visiting Americans. Blériot went on to cross the English Channel in 1909 in his own machine. We will never know how much impact seeing the Wrights fly had on him, but it had some. 

The Wrights then went back to the USA, and having been embraced by the Europeans, their own Government was now interested in their work. Between 1909 and 1915 the Wrights sold fourteen aircraft to the Army, as well as pilot training. The idea was that their aircraft could be used for observation. Clearly, a good use for any aircraft! The onset of World War I, led to massive investment and development of military aircraft around the world - a massive change in attitudes, led by the needs of the day. Of course, we all see the outcome of the aviation developments, both military and civilian, that have occurred in the hundred years since.

Apart from the 'defensive and offensive roles' that aircraft in the armed forces have played, the most important use, from my civilian perspective, has been that of the air-ambulance.

The first use of powered aircraft for evacuation of injured parties appears to have been in 1917. Yet, it was not until the late 1920's that custom built aircraft to carry injured persons were introduced. One of the most amazing facts about using aircraft to carry injured parties, is that the use of air-evacuation for causalities, in times of conflict, can reduce the mortality rate from around 60% to under 10%. The main reason for the success of air-evacuation is the reduction in time, and transport trauma, in reaching hospital or clinic services. Even a small, slow aircraft can take away the road trauma, caused by riding on bumpy rural tracks, and reduce time 'from incident to care' from tens of hours, or even days, to less than an hour. Of course, it requires skilled pilots, appropriate aircraft and a desire to see it become a reality.

Ghana has not been excluded from the concept of air ambulance. In August 1964, Kwame Nkrumah declared his desire for a network of airstrips and an air ambulance service, in his speech at Takoradi. Sadly, the concept was never realised. Of course, it does not take the military, or even Government, to establish air ambulance solutions.

Civilian air ambulances operate all over the world - some commercially, charging many thousands of dollars for a short trip to save a life of one who can pay, others operate a low cost or even 'no cost' humanitarian service (often with much simpler aircraft). What is necessary, in each case, is that the authorities embrace the concepts, and work with the providers of service, to ensure appropriate and security aware solutions.  

I look forward to seeing light aircraft used to improve and save lives in rural Ghana, and I believe that the door to that realisation will soon open. I really do believe that something is about to change. I know that there is the desire, and I believe that in the coming years we will see communities with their own airstrips, and aircraft operating for humanitarian purposes to them. However, without order, discipline, standards and rules in place (and applied), along with active co-operation between the authorities, communities and those with the desire to make it a reality, it will remain firmly on our wish list. 

My hand has been on the door handle of humanitarian aviation solutions in Ghana for many years, and I hope that, soon, that door will open positively, to the benefit all those in need of 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, October 30, 2013

Photo of the week October 30th, 2013

The only people who really 'make money', as in generate wealth, in a society are the ones who grow things, extract things, transform things or produce things. All others simply 'take money' on the back of these industries. Real economic growth is inextricably linked to industrial growth. Service industries are not able to provide independent, sustainable, economic generation, such activities are more about 'economic transfer' - and that includes trading. Just buying and selling does not create sustainable economic growth. Without the primary (extractive) and secondary (transformation) industries, the tertiary (service, trading and banking) industries will rapidly collapse.

Here we see a Teak plantation in the Eastern Region, sadly it is poorly maintained, yet forestry is an excellent source of long term revenue growth and sustainable livelihoods - but only for those who are ready to work the land, to toil and sweat - with a along term vision. Without more farmers, engineers, miners and factory workers, economic progress and sustainability will be forever limited. Let us promote our economic growth by encouraging entrepreneurial agricultural and industrial developments - and supporting the real producers of Ghana's wealth. 

Photo courtesy of WAASPS Ltd,

Monday, October 28, 2013

October 28th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Much as I have been told 'not to rock the boat', it is something that comes naturally to me. This week I am compelled to rock the boat again. Talking of boats, I often tell people that 'If you want to walk on the water, you have to get out of the boat' - sometimes you get wet, most times you learn something new, and achieve more than you imagined possible! I don't consider that life is supposed to be cosy and cuddly. Taking risks is the only way to ensure development - personal, corporate and social. If you want to do something amazing, you have to step out of your comfort zone - and take risks. Without risks, there are no rewards - nor is their learning! 

I am really concerned about the future of our young people. I see education being debased into a 'fact reciting frenzy', linked to the issue of certificates and bits of paper that have no value, but simply state 'this candidate could remember for one hour a bunch of facts and now feels good about it'. Many certificates just state 'course completed' which means that they were present in the room, and as far as the certificate is concerned, could have slept the entire time - making it an utterly worthless document. Most of the certificates I see have no transcript, no indication of the topics covered, no feedback on 'levels attained', no student specific comments and, therefore, no value. I no longer consider any of the school certificates worth the paper they are badly printed on. The JSS and SSS certificates shown to me by young applicants have not demonstrated any value whatsoever; in the vast majority of cases, they do not reflect the ability of the young person at all. It appears that something is seriously wrong. What scares me even more are those who claim to have completed further studies, and often claim to be teachers. They may have been given the opportunity to stand in front of a class, but that does not make them teachers. Real teachers KNOW their subjects, LIVE their subjects, LOVE their subjects, MAKE their subjects come ALIVE, and above all INSPIRE their students beyond recital, giving meaning and depth to the subject matter that remains in their students for life. 

In recent interviews we have had candidates who have 'studied' at higher levels. None were able to answer basic questions from their 'field of study'. They had certificates. Lots of certificates. All had been 'teaching'. If they are teachers, we are doomed. I cannot believe that so many young people BELIEVE that they are being educated, when, in reality they are being hoodwinked into thinking that a 'certificate' has value. They are being told that 'learn a fact off by heart and you will pass the exam' is what matters. We are deceiving ourselves, our children and our future if we continue in this vein. We need to step outside of this comfort zone and embrace a bigger understanding of learning.

What is 'an atmosphere'? Is a question often asked in meteorology. The expected answer is 'The gaseous envelope that surrounds a celestial body'. I have a young person who can give that answer whenever asked. She learned that within seconds of seeing it for the first time. She sounded intelligent when she said it. But when I asked her what 'gaseous', 'gaseous envelope' or 'celestial body' meant and she was stumped. Her smile turned into a downward gaze. She would pass the question in an exam, but without the underpinning knowledge. Of course, being at Kpong Airfield, she learned the hard way that 'blind repetition does not work in aviation'. Today she understands what it means, and can explain the terms. NOW she has knowledge - and it will remain in her head for life. 

When somebody comes to the airfield with a pilots licence from another country, on the whole it gives us an idea that they should be able to fly (there have been exceptions). What we are more interested in, is the number of hours, types and conditions flown in. Coming along with a shiny new licence with just 50 hours in the hot seat, principally in temperate climates and operating on long tarmac runways, tells us that 'they probably need more lessons to fly in the tropics'. Good pilots are always ready to learn more - and embrace the fact that they have more to learn. Such pilots view their licences as a 'licence to learn', not a 'passed the exam and can now forget it all because I have a piece of paper' document.

I have many thousands of hours of flying experience, I have flown in around 50 different aircraft types, in a wide range of conditions, yet I am still ACTIVELY learning. I enjoy when a qualified pilot from Europe or the USA arrives at the airfield and asks about a conversion to the Ghanaian National Licence. The regulations state that a 'minimum of five hours supervised flight instruction' is required. The best converters are those who do not care about how many hours it takes. Some continue to ask for an instructor to fly with them for more than three times the minimum required. Those are the pilots who are learning from the experience of others. They do not consider themselves 'complete', but rather 'a work in progress'. I also learn from them, since I know that I do not have the monopoly on knowledge.

Perhaps our issues in education are linked to understanding the concept of the 'life-long learner'. This was a major policy concept in the UK a few years back. Life is about coupling working with learning. The idea of 'going to school' in the local context seems to be about 'stopping working and sitting in the classroom'. I believe that 'in service training' has more value than 'a year out to do an MBA'. I believe that evening classes and day release has more value than 'quitting one job to go to school to look for another'.

Clearly, employers need to embrace the concept. Employees need to embrace the concept. Educational establishments and training centres need to embrace the concept. There are organisations that embrace these concepts, but there is far too great a gap between 'what is needed' and 'what is on offer'.

The group the most in need of 'in service training' is the teachers - for they offer the greatest multiplier effect. They need to spend days in industry to see the REAL need of employers. After all, the reason for an education is to get a job. The reason to increase knowledge is to do ones job better and open avenues for progression.

It is time for a change. A positive change. 

Any school interested in sending teachers on a day course in industry, aimed at improving their teaching and learning skills (particularly in STEM and health), please get in contact with me - perhaps we can set something up at Kpong Airfield.

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, October 23, 2013

Photo of the week October 23rd, 2013

Despite the lush green fields from the recent rains, there are many signs of Harmattan approaching. The winds are already turning and the cattle egret flocks migrating to our herds, decorating our trees and adding interest to the skies. Many villages in Ghana rely on a successful crop and appropriate storage from the current season to make their way through the forthcoming dry season. Lack of infrastructure and education are major barriers between where we are and the realisation of sustainable development. Photo courtesy of Medicine on the Move

Monday, October 14, 2013

October 14th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Recently I celebrated 25 years since my first flying lesson. When I think back on that first day in the cockpit, I realise that it was a turning point in my life. How did I being my cockpit-based journey? It started with a simple gift, an unwanted gift... 

In Europe it is common to go out as a family to visit museums, farms, events and airfields. Such visits are educational and inspirational. They are 'family times' and create bonding, provide healthy exercise and a change of perspective. 

It is always a pleasure to take youngsters to an aerodrome. Watching their eyes track aircraft, pointing and exclaiming. At times a child will delight with their outburst of 'Daddy! Look at the ailerons moving!', which results in a proud parent, patting their offspring on the back. At times the outbursts are more demanding of patience, coupled with education, as one's progeny declares, at the top of their lungs, 'They are going to CRAAAASHHHHH!', as they watch a beautiful landing of a Boeing Stearman, just looking a little different to the Cessna and Piper touchdowns. 

In 1988, I offered a trial flight to my (now ex-) wife. It was a surprise gift, coupled with a family visit to the local airfield. She declined, and, as a result, I took the ride. It was a moment that changed my life, my outlook, and my approach to many things - and is the basis of my outreach work in rural Ghana today. The aircraft sat on the apron - white with red and blue trim. The registration had a hidden meaning: G-AWUN, Golf Alpha Whiskey, Uniform November, but called 'A-One' by the crew. It was their primary trial flight aircraft. It was a Reims-Cessna 150 (A Cessna built in France). It was basic, had some 'issues', but it flew. My instructor, Frank, guided me on that first trial flight - and let me take the controls for about five of the twenty minute experience. I was flying. It was not really a difficult thing - it was rather easy. It was definitely liberating. This experience ignited a chain of firecrackers that would crackle and explode in my brain for days. We flew over many of the fields that make up Northamptonshire, and it all looked magnificent. The Express Lift elevator testing tower, (now called the National Lift Tower), stood proudly in the distance, providing a reference point as we wove our patterns in the sky. As we came into land, over the trees of the small woodland at the end of the airfield, turbulence reached out and shook the little plane - but it mattered not, for the excitement in my heart and mind was great enough to enable me to practically fly without the metal around me!I quickly became 'infatuated'. I wanted to go back and fly again. I found myself looking at the sky at every opportunity. If I heard an aircraft engine I would have to run to a place where I could see it. My eyes gazed upwards more and more. My heart now belonged to the sky. Family outings - including birthday parties - became orientated around the airfield. New friends were made, and we were accepted into the culture and family of aviation. Aviation is a passion - it is a way of life - and it permeates everything you do. It has been said that 'Anybody can fly a plane, but it takes passion to be a real pilot' - and I concur.

I love the science of aviation, coupled with art of flying! The theory of flight is clearly a science. Yet, piloting is an art - and one that I am still trying to perfect, against a background of changinconditions.

Thrust is generated by an engine, spinning a propeller. The art of controlling that thrust with micro movements of the hand, feeling for the sweet-spot in any given condition of flight, requires more than just knowledge of the fact.

Drag is the force of resistance which is exerted on a body moving through a liquid (and air is a liquid for the purpose of flight). The aircraft must overcome drag. The smoother and sleeker the aircraft design, the lower the drag. Drag is also altered by the use of flaps, slats, retractable undercarriage, etc. as well as the 'co-ordination' of the plane. Drag increases with speed - so just adding more power will not always add the expected increase in speed. Here comes the art of flying. How you fly the plane, how you present the aircraft to the air, how you use the thrust, all of these things are down to the fine touch of the aerial artist, painting upon the canvas called 'the sky'.

Lift is the 'upward force' generated by the wings. Simple, easy. Yet, again, the artistic skill of a pilot can squeeze a little extra lift during landing to make that landing smooth and sexy. Yes, sexy. Landings can be made so attractive that 'sexy' is the only word to describe them!

Of course, the last of the science facts we have to understand is the killjoy of flying - gravity. That force that brings us back to earth, preferably by choice and before we run out of fuel. From the moment the wheels part company with the runway, the unavoidable force of gravity is calling us back to the planet. Glider pilots have learned to use gravity more than the powered pilots - and I take my hat off to them for their use of gravity as a colour on their palette as they paint their art. Gravity can be used to accelerate our motion towards the planet, and that speed can then be turned into lift to temporarily increase our height above the rock below us. The use of gravity is equally essential in the aerobatic pilots display - without it they would struggle to impress. 

Four simple, scientific, facts of flight, dry and boring if presented without passion. Four colours of the artist of flight. As much as red, green, blue (and black) are the basis of the colours on your computer screen; and that Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black form the basis of printing, so the pilot with passion can draw upon the pallet of Thrust, Drag, Lift and Gravity in the unique airborne art form that changes lives, provides a discipline and gives inspiration like no other.

What I love even more about the aviation that now powers my thought and heart, is that it provides the perfect integrated product for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics - the basis of our technological developments. It is the most integrated and complete discipline that can be used to stimulate growth. It is not a surprise, therefore, that my work in Ghana uses aviation in health, education and the changing of lives, one flight at a time. All because of a rejected gift to one, that I took up, and it has now become a gift to many thousands.

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, October 9, 2013

Photo of the week October 9th, 2013

In the 1960's Ghana had a vibrant 'light aviation for the people programme'. Here we see a glimpse inside a hangar of the time - these were the aircraft for training in Ghana! Austers, Piper Cubs and a variety of gliders graced our skies. Pilots and engineers came to teach and encourage - but it was not just about flying. Light Aviation offers inspiration and discipline; it promotes a different way of thinking. It is an excellent tool for stimulating learning about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). It is a tool for positive change, especially in the young people of a nation.

Work is under way at Kpong Airfield, in the Eastern Region, to establish a 'Museum of Aviation, Technology and Engineering', to open in 2014. The team are looking for historical exhibits (from copies of photographs to interesting parts - even complete aircraft or engines) to inspire the next generation in an informed manner. Please contact the team via if you are able to support the development of this initiative.

Monday, October 7, 2013

October 7th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

European newspapers carry pages of 'positions vacant' - many are small adverts, often just three lines of text from those offering employment. I do not see the same in developing nations, and wonder why. I guess that there is the challenge of over-response, principally by those without suitable experience. Conversely, last year we advertised for a nurse for rural developments, with full flight training as part of the package. We did not get a single reply from a Ghanaian nurse. The position is still open for the right Ghanaian candidate!

In 1985, I responded to an advert for a 'Trainee Robotics Programmer'. The small company ran a three line advert in the newspaper. I responded. The interview was fun; the dirty office, the noise of fabrication going on across the hallway. Thirty-tonne presses slamming tools through steel plates, the reverberation making water in my glass produce circular patterns. The dust of production could be tasted on a discerning tongue, the smell of oil, slipping hydraulic clutch-plates and cutting fluids providing specialist perfume, for those who know how to appreciate it. 

Engineering is like a fine wine; you either appreciate it or reject it. Those who reject it can never know the pleasures it can give. All the better for the connoisseurs of making things, metal, oil, hydraulics, pneumatics and electronics.

The machine to be programmed was a SHAPE-50 punch-press - the second one ever produced. At 200 holes per minute in 2mm steel it was fast - then (today's standards surpass 800hpm). The machine whirred and banged, the guards vibrating with every punch. The thirty-tool carousel changed punches and dies in under 5 seconds. The locking pins withdrew with a clunk, the large circular steel tool holder rotated to its new position, and the top and bottom pins relocated with a satisfying thud, ready for the bang-bang-bang of punching to resume with the new tool!

I fell in love with the machine, and would even have taken the job for no pay. This was manufacturing at the cutting edge, for its day. I wanted to be a part of it.

The company offered me an apprenticeship. The pay was poor, yet the learning opportunity great. I would start by sweeping around the machine, cleaning up and operating. That was good enough for me. Watching things being made, assessing the cutting speeds, the tooling systems, the control technology, hydraulics and pneumatics. Soon, I found myself in the part-programming room. 

Each drawing that came in - whether for a car, aircraft, machine or simply a washer for a specialist application - had to be visually converted into a developed blank, then hand programmed for the machine to execute its transformation. It really is magical to watch a blank sheet of metal transmutate from nothing to finished product in front of your eyes. It is even more special when you know that the music to which the machine dances has been written by your own hand! 

A few months, and thousands of robotic part-programmes later, came a surprise. My boss and mentor was leaving. I was instantly promoted and given the reins of the part-programming and CNC-production operations, reporting directly to the Managing Director. In less than a year from starting, I had earned the respect of the team, and been involved in so many production items. My willingness to work long hours, six and often seven days per week, along with my desire to learn and contribute to the development of the company, without asking for more money, was rewarded in a fraction of the time I had expected. Such is serendipity.

Working on production of such a range of parts gave me insight to many different industries, and the ability to communicate with many different designers and professionals. I can look at many buildings in Europe and know that there are parts in them that I wrote the programmes for. Many vehicles (some of them probably still on the road) that I wrote the programme for essential parts in their engines, suspension, braking and other systems. At one point there were police cars carrying devices that I had been involved in the design and production of - and all of this gave me a satisfaction that cannot be described, purchased or given away. It is a satisfaction that comes from hard work, determination and many long hours of working-out 'how-to-solve' manufacturing challenges.

One day, the Director asked me to visit machine tool suppliers and to be a part of the team in relation to a new robotic purchase. The company had a grant, and was ready to purchase a 'state-of-the-art' machine. Finally, we decided on the Japanese made Amada Pega 344 robotic punch-press, a new concept in design of such tools. With 44 tooling stations, some which could be rotated between hits, and the Fanuc 6 control system, it was, at that time, 'amazing'. The external part-programming system was a mini-computer, costing a great deal of money. I was given an extensive demonstration of its capabilities - and it was a very capable system. Not only could it save the part-programmes to punched tape, but also provided for a direct-transfer from computer-to-controller using DNC (Direct Numerical Control). My excitement was great at receiving such new marvels to make work.

With just two weeks to delivery of the new machine, I was informed by the Boss that the funding for the mini-computer and part-programming software had not come through - but that the new robotic machine would arrive on time. I practically fell on the floor with anguish. 'How will we programme the new controller?' I asked, with fear in my eyes, since any failure in programming would mean a failed project - and no more job! 'You will sort it out.', came the blunt reply, full of confidence in my ability to warp space and time, levitate, sing opera, dance, teleport - and clearly, magically produce part-programmes for the new machine. 'You have a budget of xxx', was the last statement as I closed the door behind me, ready to ponder how to solve the issues.  

The amount would not buy any powerful computer - but it would enable the procurement of an Olivetti M28 Personal Computer running the then new 'MS-Dos 2.11' operating system - with support for up to 10Mb hard drives (that was large storage then!). So that is what was purchased, and it came with its own GW-BASIC programming language - no other software - the rest was up to my creativity!

Learning to solve problems, and not to be constrained by the environment, led to the next few weeks being absorbed in learning to write a suitable computer programme that would enable part-programme production, interface with the Fanuc controller, and to producing a suitable production solution. It worked. Better than anybody could believe - especially me. My software grew in popularity, and later became the basis of another manufacturers own systems - being used to produce parts for almost every industry!

All because of a three line advert, and taking the risk of learning, stepping out and being ready to take on a challenge - working as hard, and long, as necessary to make it 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, October 2, 2013

Photo of the week October 2, 2013

The new irrigation project at Torgome, near Kpong Dam, continues to develop and we all hope will soon be producing more sustainable livelihoods for those in the area. With ongoing climate changes appropriate irrigation, and good agricultural practices education, is essential for food security. Furthermore, appropriate education in relation to health matters that may occur when working in heavily irrigated areas - especially in relation to Schistosomiasis (Bilharzia) and other water borne infections, which can flourish with inappropriate sanitation and water cleanliness awareness. Photo courtesy of Medicine on the Move

Monday, September 30, 2013

September 30th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

I am often asked 'What did you study at University?', to which the answer is 'I didn't go to the usual University, however, I am still an active student in the 'University of Life' - the best University in the world'. Through surgical interventions that prevented my completion of Senior High School and 'A' Levels, I was left 'not fully able' to attend the 'lecture theatre and concrete structure learning institution' but remained 'fully determined to obtain as much education as I could, from those with outstanding practical knowledge to share'. 

As I left the orthopaedic ward of the teaching hospital, I was told that my walking and working would be 'limited' and that I should not lift more than about 1kg. Consequently, I took work in a government research laboratory. Wearing a white coat, sitting on a high stool, peering down a binocular microscope. I learned to dissect tropical insects - and how to make my own dissection tools! I was part of a team working on the diuretic hormones of disease-spreading blood suckers. It was fine, but it was not 'very challenging' - frankly it was remarkably boring, with an occasional moment of 'wow'. Once you have dissected a few thousand Rhodnius Prolixus under the microscope, cut out their central nervous systems, extracted and tied their malpighian tubules around wire posts under a ringers solution, and waited for two hours before measuring the diameter of the droplets... you can, and do, get quite bored. Although the job was within my capabilities, it was not stretching me mentally, physically nor, most importantly, did it fire any 'passion' in my heart. One autumn day, I decided that it was time to ignore medical advice and discover where the real boundaries of my envelope lay.

I spent hours walking, my back aching, my left leg and arm refusing to move normally, stopping at every factory or office I came across asking at the reception for 'any opportunity for work?'. Finally, I came across an engineering factory, on the edge of Brighton, it was a grey building with a broken sign, it smelt of metal, oil and 'man sweat'. It was an old-school engineering operation.

They had just been awarded a major aviation contract, in relation to hydraulic and pneumatic systems at a major military establishment, as part of an early airborne warning system. They were seeking 'young talent' to assist them with the added demands of the new contract. For whatever reason, I was seen as a 'youngster with potential' and put into the purchasing department technical team. My earnings were not great in financial terms, but the gains in experience would turn out to be more valuable than any money could compare to.

I spent hours visually scanning A0 blue prints, far bigger than my desk, often still damp from being pulled. The detailed drawings of pipe-work, wiring, switches and installation details abounded. I spent days counting and recounting pumps, valves, pipe fittings, electrical components and more. Quickly, I found that these drawings spoke to me, I could scan them and read them holistically, they made sense to my way of thinking - they inspired me - and I could see the effective three dimensional outcomes. Then, I started to spot ways of improving the designs. Such inputs were first met with 'discouraging noises' by my line manager, however, I made my way to the Drawing Office and met with open-minded draughtsmen. 'You see that you have used two different pumps for these two circuits? If you look at the spec sheets you could use the same one, and we could reduce the parts diversity - they both pump across the desired range...', I pointed out. Drawing after drawing was recalled, and the parts diversity was dropping - not just from my inputs, but it appeared that a 'second set of eyes' could spot things that those with 'Drawing Office Vision' were overlooking. This was before Computer Aided Design, and therefore each draughtsman, sitting at their large drawing boards, in rows like teak trees, had made independent selections for the different areas of the project. My role, in assessing the parts and putting together requirements lists, enabled me to see the bigger picture. The best part being that the design department embraced the feedback, and enjoyed the positive interaction. Despite my lack of a formal university education, I had the right approach and saw the bigger picture. Through reading the various specifications sheets of hydraulic, pneumatic, electrical and various control systems, my knowledge grew, and my ability to interact with designers and engineers grew also. I was actively contributing to the hydro-pneumatic installations for a military aircraft installation - and it made me proud to be part of the team.

Later, I was invited to the 'good inwards' department, when the delivery trucks arrived. Seeing first hand the parts, that I had only met through blueprints and spec sheets, fired a passionate flame in my chest - and my head. Holding the various parts, and knowing where each one would be installed for the aircraft that would benefit from these systems, was like touching a piece of future history. The storekeeper indulged me, showing each of the many thousands of parts in stores, spending time explaining, thus adding to my knowledge. Every lunch hour was spent gaining a fresh grain of knowledge from a mentor with years of experience. Consequently, quality control, use of measuring and testing equipment and more was within my reach, and as a result I got more and more oil on my hands - I think that oil and the manufacturing spirit were seeping deeper into my soul.

When the parts went to production, I asked to gain access to the production floor. It was granted. There I was met with the magic of machining and assembly. Both drew my eyes, hands and heart. Making things was brilliant - especially things for aircraft! Again, the time-served craftsmen on the shop floor indulged my millions of questions, and thus I learned about the early Computer Controlled Machines - perhaps it was a moment of love-finding. It was a fresh seed in my brain garden and it was planted firmly.

Economics have a nasty habit of biting, and when the contract I was working on was cancelled, it was time to seek a new financial-life-support opportunity. All the same, my seeds of engineering had been planted in a well tilled place, and, even if needing to be allowed to germinate, they had formed the early connections to aviation, engineering and the benefits of sharing knowledge in a hands-on manner.

The economics of the 80's was not good, and jobs lasted short times, but over the next few years I found myself exposed to the electronics and telecommunications industries and then, by a stroke of misfortune of working in an aviation steel stockholders where staff were treated 'not as one would think suitably', I stumbled across an advert for an apprentice CNC machine tool programmer. The seeds of my early engineering exposure were about to be given a large dose of high power fertiliser - and I would be involved in a wider range of projects than I could dream of. All because I ignored the doctors and pushed to find the limits of my envelope. Sometimes, that step out leads to a step up!

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, September 25, 2013

Photo of the week September 25th, 2013

Patricia Mawuli, who is a regular contributor to the picture of the week, is the current Woman of Worth poster personality in the Wolfpack promotion. Patricia is an active role model for young women, not just in Ghana, across the world. Patricia is dedicated to training other young women, particularly from rural Ghana, in engineering, welding, CNC machining, Aircraft maintenance and of course as a flying instructor. Patricia is a volunteer pilot for Medicine on the Move and is leading the aerial supply of health education materials to rural communities using the Rotax 912iS powered Zenith CH701 Aircraft that she has built and maintains. Photo courtesy of Wolfpack.