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

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