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'├ętats, 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