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

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