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