Monday, February 11, 2013

February 11th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Recovery from unusual attitudes is a flying lesson that I enjoy teaching. We take the student up in an aircraft, ask them to close their eyes, remove their hands and feet from the controls, and then the instructor ‘upsets’ the aircraft. There are several things we can ‘upset’. Putting the aircraft into a nose high, near stall condition; a near spiral dive situation; a steep turn; or set the aircraft trim hard back, reduce the power and put it into a incipient stall. Each configuration requires that the student pilot, when so instructed, opens their eyes, takes the controls and returns the aircraft to a ‘normal’ attitude of ‘straight and level’ flight.

Most students love this exercise. Opening their eyes, and assessing in a second what they will need to do to regain normal flight. The first thing is to ensure that the airspeed remains safe, and secondly to work on getting the horizon in the right visual location in the windshield. Once that is achieved, power, trim and all other systems are re-checked and the aircraft is back under control.

This past week was not a good week for me. We made some decisions over the past two-years that resulted in an ‘upset condition’ at the airfield. Recovering from that upset position has required all of the staff to check their instruments, position themselves on straight and level and to work towards re-establishing a site-wide ‘operations normal’ condition.

Two years ago we selected four students for scholarships to come to train to build, maintain and operate aircraft. They completed their SHS schooling and started their learning programme with us, in September. After going home for the seasonal break, they all came back with ‘issues’, and it culminated in all four students packing their bags overnight and one particular student telling us in the morning ‘My spirit has told me I should leave this place’.

Now, much as I am a man with a great deal of faith, I do believe that people often use ‘spiritual things’ as an excuse. I am not suggesting for a moment that there are no ‘spiritual things’, but I do propose that there is a lot of ‘blame the spiritual things’ being used as an excuse.

After much discussion and suggestions of re-consideration, the four merry campers turned their backs on full scholarships, including learning to fly, build aircraft, airfield operations, computer production programming, EMT training, and much more. Happy as Larry the Lamb on a spring day in a lush green field, they frolicked away back to their communities.

This left us confused, bewildered and a little bit angry. Then, my colleague stated ‘recovery from unusual attitudes’.

For me, and many others, the attitude of ‘quitting a learning environment where you are given so many opportunities and a guaranteed job at the end, to return to an uncertain future’, is simply not an attitude that I can consider ‘usual’.

We spent days, as a field team ‘considering what caused the upset’. We speculated that they wanted more time ‘off’ and less ‘mathematics and English’ (their maths and English needed brought up to a suitable standard). It was postulated that the ‘workshop and airfield maintenance component of the course’ was considered by them as ‘too hard’ or even ‘a punishment’ for them. One person felt they considered anything that did not involve sitting in the air-conditioned data centre as a ‘punishment’. Ultimately, nobody can grasp the reasoning. Perhaps we should just accept that their ‘spirits’ were stronger than their reasoning.

At times like this you are left with three options. 1. Quit. 2. Try the same formula again. 3. Change the formula and go at it harder.

Option 1. Is easy. Option 2. Requires little effort. Option 3. Will take a lot of effort and energy, and is far from easy.

One thing I learned as a young man, and have stuck to over the years, is that ‘if there is an easy choice, a bland choice and a hardest choice, the probability is that the ‘hardest choice’ is the right one.’

Sitting with colleagues and students we are now looking at what the best way is to recruit and train Ghana’s future ‘light aviation for rural development’ sector stars is. There are some things we will not change.

We believe that sustainable players in the development of rural Ghana should come from rural Ghana. They need to be sponsored, since the chances are that their families are already struggling with day-to-day life. They need to be full of potential and willing to work hard in the classroom, cockpit, clinic, workshop, and on the airfield, to achieve the goals set out. They must be ready to embrace a new way of thinking, one where anything less than the very best is not good enough. They must be prepared to get dirty and work in the heat, getting sweaty and smelly if necessary. They must not complain when they are asked to be on time, to learn practical trigonometry, or to run, or to rush out in the rain to secure an aircraft. They must be ready to take health education and care to the communities in the most remote parts of Ghana. They must be ready to embrace the challenges of doing new things in new ways. They must be the future ‘super-aviatrixes’ of Ghana and West Africa.

Until now, we have operated the training model along the three terms lines of a college. We have found that the ‘vacations’ have always resulted in problems. Parents find that paying even the most modest support for their wards a challenge and the prime language in their homes tends not to be English. Consequently, the young person often returns from their vacation exhausted from working at chores to help raise funds for their own education, and their language skills in English slide backwards. The home environment offers little academic support for their learning.

So, we are considering a different model. One that may or may not become a reality, but one that is not new in other parts of the world. We are considering paying students to learn and not working to the tradition school terms system.

Imagine a 46 week ‘learning and earning’ year with three two week breaks (just like in a job, but with a focus on learning new skills, accommodation, food, discipline and a little pocket money). Imagine, that the student is given vocational and academic tasks that contribute to their learning, but also are beneficial and productive to themselves and development. Imagine that, if you hand in all of your written work, complete all of your practical tasks and are an exemplary student, that at the end of each week you receive a small payment (perhaps GHS5 to GHS10). Short term goals, with short term rewards as part of a bigger picture, and relieving families of the burdens and struggles of educating their wards.

If we decide to go that way, and it is not decided, it would create a new wave of possibilities for education. There has been much talk of ‘free education’, but what if the private sector introduced ‘we will pay you to learn’? Please write to me with your reactions, because if we take this route, you will read about it here, in Fresh Air Matters, where recovery from unusual attitudes may require an unusual manoeuvre!

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

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