Tuesday, January 28, 2014

January 27, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

I am really proud to be a pilot of a small aircraft. It is an aluminium, high-wing, Zenith STOL CH701, and was built here in Ghana. It has a wingspan of less than ten metres, seats just two people, has no onboard toilet and you can't stand up inside. It has a practical range of about 1200km. It needs just a few hundred metres of dirt to operate from, is powered by a Rotax 912iS piston engine, and has a simple, ground adjustable, three-blade propeller. That automotive fuel powered, reliable, one hundred horsepower engine allows us to cruise at around one hundred and forty kph, burning just thirteen litres of fuel per hour. Yup, I am proud to fly that aircraft. Is see no reason to make up stories about it being bigger or faster than it is. It is a fantastic aircraft. Sure, it would be nice to have a bigger, faster, leather seats, with toilet, jet powered aircraft - but that is not what we can afford, nor what would give me so many smiles - nor what we ever set out to develop. We are proud of what we have, and have no jealousy of what other may have, or claim to have. I know that aircraft so well, and it flies so amazingly. We use it to serve the rural communities as we can afford to, and it has provided a great service in development of farms, waterways, flood monitoring, etc. It is fit for its purpose - and I, and my wife, love that little plane as if it were our own baby - well we did make it ourselves!

Why am I going on like this? Well, I am fed up with so many people making claims, or aspirations that are not realistic. Telling people you have a jet is a nice thing. If you have one. Bragging about your jet, when you can't put fuel in it, is not smart, nor clever - frankly, it can make you look silly when people find out the truth! Refusing to fly a smaller plane because you aspire to a bigger plane is equally counterproductive. Surely, we are better to be proud of our small achievements, and to embrace what we can do, rather than sit on the sidelines chanting 'eh Chale, next week-oo, I dey go buy some big t'ing-oo. You go see, it be big-oooo and fast-ooo'.

This attitude of 'sounding and acting bigger than we really are' is so counter-productive, and prevalent, that it is preventing real, sustainable, deep-seated development of our businesses, communities, and nation. We seem to have developed a culture based on 'claims and declarations', rather than one based on 'track-record, demonstrations and development'. It is considered by many to be more important to SAY what you are going to do, buy or be, than to actually achieve any of it.

How many mega-projects do we hear about, see the big spending on a 'launch party', hear the telephone-number-long budget, watch on the news and read in the papers - notice the full-page colour advertisements and applaud in awe... only to realise a few years later that it was nothing but a big, probably well intentioned, hype. There was a good party and some cash made from the launch by others - but little or no tangible achievement. Admittedly, it is really hard to actually achieve what you want to in the economic and physical climate that we are living in; yet it seems that so many projects simply NEVER go past that hype, noise and self-gratification process.

Let me share a couple of 'events' that stick in my mind that reflect what I mean.

I was approached to support a massive fundraiser for a new and exciting rural project. The event would be held at Parliament House. In the weeks leading up to the event I visited the proposed site for the project with those behind the initiative. We saw people chopping down Neem trees, talk of fencing, how many truck loads of stones would be needed, the creation of employment, raising the youth out from their ruts and giving them a new hope - there were glossy brochures showing the site plan, and it looked amazing! It was truly fantastic - and the names involved, and mentioned freely, were all 'big men' (and some 'big women' too). Past and present presidents were 'name-dropped' (not just by 'John' but the surnames too!), as if they were sweeties to please children - and the chiefs and local people were overjoyed! I was, and I admit it, totally convinced it would happen. I volunteered my time and resources to assist in the logistics of the event, willingly and without regret, because I believed (and still do) that the concept was (and would still be) magnificent. The fundraising evening came around.... it was a major event with big-name singers (receiving thousands of cedis for the evening performance), big name speakers (probably taking a small expenses envelope with large denomination notes inside), lots of big cars, expensive dresses, fine tableware, industry leaders, politicians, lavish food and wine flowing as if a wedding feast were in full swing... and funds were raised (or so we are told) towards the multi-million dollar project... That evening we all went home 'high with expectations'.

That was several years ago. Since that event, not a single footing has been dug... not a single truck has plied the route to drop a load of stones... and the organisers have not visibly been near the rural site again. Every so often the plot is referred to by locals as 'this is where the new project will be built'. The Neem trees have re-grown and the charcoal ladies are busy running a little illegal coppicing business from the land - and that is the only economic benefit that has been seen at the project site.

My other reference event was a 'large organisation/ministry' event. It was entitled 'The First Annual xyz Event'. the xyz must remain anonymous, for fear of the organisations/ministries involved knowing exactly which of the 'First Annual Events' being referring to. Again, it was a fanfare event with excess media coverage. The topics covered touched on matters of national importance. Representatives from the Armed Forces, the Police, Ministries, International Organisations and local stakeholders filled the seats. The venue was not the lowest cost and the menu was lavish, because of the status of the attendees. All the same, it was a really good event. The topics covered were relevant, and the aims and ambitions outstanding. Oh, and it was the first and LAST annual event. No follow up. No implementation of the well discussed matters. No outcomes. There were lots of pictures in the papers, and some prime time TV coverage - mainly of those 'big people' and their 'sound bites', and lots of 'feel good' factor. Sadly, it appears that little if any of the aims and ambitions of the discussions ever saw the glimpse of daylight under the rapidly closing door of the initiative.

I am sure that you can read any newspaper today and spot the same rhetoric.

We need to set our short term sights at what we can achieve, with our limited resources - and drop the hype and flash. We must be realistic and use the little funds we have to do something small, be proud of it, and keep working towards the bigger things. We must start small, and work damn hard, every day, every year and quietly aim for big. At least I think that way.... Do you?

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics (www.waasps.com www.medicineonthemove.org e-mail capt.yaw@waasps.com)

Monday, January 20, 2014

January 20, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

"We are all gonna die!" is the standard 'scream response' shown in disaster movies when an aircraft is undergoing some in-flight challenge.  Regardless of the 'sensationalism' of the statement at the time, it is, in fact, a remarkably accurate statement.  Statistically, we are all going to die - at some point, hopefully a long time from now!

I was recently reading the famous transcript from the cockpit voice recorder, of a Boeing 747, which experienced all four engines fail in flight.  Let us set the scene... and please, imagine that you are on board, since there will be questions later!

It was the 24th of June 1982 and a British Airways 747 was flying at around 37,000 feet (11,000m or 11km) above the earth.  They were experiencing a range of unexpected events, including the smell of sulphur in the cabin and strange lighting effects around the engines and in the sky.  They had unknowingly flown into a cloud of volcanic ash thrown into the atmosphere by Mount Galunggung, about 180km South-East of Jakarta in Indonesia.

The three flight crew had an average age of just under 38 years, with the youngest just 32 and the oldest 41 years old.  Engine four surged and then flamed out (stopped working).  As per procedure, the crew performed an engine shut down.  Less than a minute later engine number two did the same thing.  Before the crew could complete the shutdown for the second engine, engines one and three quit almost simultaneously.  The flight engineer was recorded as saying 'I don't believe it.  All four engines have failed'.  A practical, and terribly British statement of fact!

The crew carried out a quick calculation of how far they could travel without engines.  From a start height of 11km, they had a 'still air' ground coverage of about 165km (using a glide ratio of 1:15) - or a little over 20 minutes before their impact - good or bad - with the planet would occur, without any engines working.  The crew agreed on the emergency procedure and planned for both finding somewhere on the land and the option of ditching in the sea - whichever would be the most likely to save lives, at the time that decision had to be taken.  At the same time, they tried several engine restarts, despite being above the recommended 'restart altitude' of 28,000feet, without success.

The captain now had to inform the passengers of the situation.  Please remember, the above is a true account.

What would you have said to your 248 passengers and 15 crew?  Let us make this a multiple choice question!

a) (as in the movies) 'We are all gonna die!'

b) Ladies, gentlemen, honoured guests, all protocols observed, British Airways are pleased to announce that we are using the new green engines from Rolls Royce and that explains the sudden quietness you are enjoying.  Our current fuel burn is zero, making this the greenest 747 flight ever.

c) (ask the first office to hum loudly like an engine ''brrrrrmmmmmmmmm' repeatedly) Ladies and Gentlemen, despite the rumours we still have engines working as you can hear... (move the microphone closer to the first officers engine noise emission).

d) Eh, Chale, it all be fine, we just go find good fitter make spark da engines and come.

e) Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them going again. I trust you are not in too much distress.

f) Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking.  We are having a wonderful flight with lots of excitement.  We are expecting a support team to arrive anytime now.  Everybody's god is with us.  Whilst we are waiting to land there will be free Champagne and chocolates for everybody and you will all get a wonderful gift upon arrival.  Do not worry about a thing.  What we are experiencing is absolutely normal, and it this is the best flight ever.

If you chose e) then that is exactly what the Captain said - and it is now a famous clip.  He made a clear, clean and factual statement.  He did not hide the gravity of the situation (and gravity was a big part of the situation!).  What was most impressive was the ' I trust you are not in too much distress.'  - he recognised that people would be distressed, and acknowledged it.

The good news is that, as the plane passed through 13,500 feet, and passed clear of the ash cloud, they decided to try another engine restart procedure.  Engine number four came on line and they managed to reduce their rate of descent, gaining time.  Soon another engine started, and the aircraft was able to level off and even gain height, albeit slowly.  Despite some other excitement and more engine failures and restarts, and having the windshield and lights badly damaged by the dust scratching the surfaces, the aircraft landed safely without any loss of life.  The aircraft needed four new engines, new windshield, lights, fuel flushing and a lot of other work before being returned to service.  The crew were given a number of awards and lots of recognition.  They had to invent a solution to making a safe landing, being creative on the approach with available data and systems.  When asked how hard it was to land the plane with a windshield that made forward visibility practically impossible, lacking the usual systems and with such severe engine worries, the captain responded simply that it was  'a bit like negotiating one's way up a badger's arse', a rather blunt statement that gets the point across.  I am sure that all the passengers and British Airways appreciate his teams ability to negotiate their way in the most challenging of situations without getting bitten!

Honesty is always the best policy, even if the news is bad.  It helps people to understand the real challenges the team at the pointy end are facing.  Real cooperation is engaged from early on.  Lying to the passengers, making up stories, or even giving grandiose promises does not help anybody.  Facts do.

However, the correct choice and timing of words is key to ensuring that the people who are in your hands are not frightened, lack confidence in their crew or, equally dangerously, lulled into a false sense of security.  Being a pilot is a tough job, you have to manage the plane and the passengers - as well as the crew itself.  Thankfully, in this case, a successful outcome of a near catastrophe was achieved by excellent skills, a cohesive crew - cockpit and cabin, a well engineered aircraft and a little bit of luck.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics (www.waasps.com   www.medicineonthemove.org e-mail capt.yaw@waasps.com)

Monday, January 13, 2014

January 13th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Welcome to 2014. No matter where you are in the world, you are looking at a brand New Year! What has happened in the past is no longer, it can only be used to guide you in your decisions for the New Year ahead -YOUR FUTURE. 'We cannot change the past, but we can shape the future', is a useful mantra that has a real purpose as we stand in the gateway of a fresh planetary orbit of the sun.

Of course, the 'year start point' is a rather arbitrary point, decided many years ago, but adhered to by the majority of the planet's population for practical reasons. In all honesty, each and every day is the start of a new year, if we want it to be! (Chinese, Moslems and many others each have their own 'year start' points.) Nonetheless, 1st January is celebrated around the world as the first day of a new Gregorian Calendar, and with it a vision of what we expect, and hope for, in the coming 365(.242 days) - and they are already ticking by at a rate of knots!

In Ghana we have an Adinkra symbol, that echoes its own 'philosophy', called simply 'Sankofa' or 'go back to fetch it'. It practically symbolises that 'we cannot go forwards without knowing where came from', or 'we should learn from the past to build the future'. Often depicted as a bird looking over its own shoulder at itself as an egg (which is not only where it came from but also what it will soon produce - thus its own future!); the concept exists in parallel forms across civilisations of the world.

I like to consider a New Year rather like a waypoint on an aviation navigation - a point of 'restart'. A moment where you can select a new heading, level the wings, reset the direction indicator, reset the stopwatch, pick out a target way ahead, and 'start from a clean slate'. I sometimes call the waypoints in navigation 'hallelujah moments'. You have achieved one leg of your route, and are about to start another. Furthermore, any mistakes you made in getting to where you are, can be struck through, and you may legitimately reset the timer, adjust the heading, and off you go. Of course, you would a foolish pilot not to learn from what happened on the last leg of your navigation!

Taking note of the features of the past leg - weather; the time left until sunset; the direction and strength of the wind; the general feel of the air; the look of the waters below you (for their colour can tell you a lot about impending events in the atmosphere); the sound of the engine; the rate of fuel consumption; fuel remaining; hunger, tiredness and thirst levels; and so much more - are all key to being well equipped to make fewer mistakes, achieving more, on the forthcoming leg of one's passage towards Nirvana.

Of course, in order to move forwards safely, that is where you must be looking. It is good to reflect on the past, and keep the precious lessons of history close to mind, to avoid falling into the grips of unnecessary challenges. At the same time it is essential to focus attention on a feature on the horizon - looking forward, reading the signs of the sky and terrain ahead, and always making sure that you have an emergency route in mind as well!

I don't think many of us look back at 2013 as a year of greatness - anywhere in the world. It was a tough year. I am sure that on the first of January 2014 many people considered they had vanquished 2013 and shouted 'hallelujah' as they embraced an untouched 2014. 

This year clearly has many navigational hurdles ahead - one would be foolish to think that this was a year of plenty joy, and few challenges. It is going to be a year where our piloting skills will be put to the test - one where the need to plan, react and adapt are essential to getting to the next waypoint intact.

Whether we consider food security, cash flow, climate change, international affairs, business development or personal progress, 2014 will be a year that requires all of our skills to ensure that we achieve desired goals, through an age old secret that has been lost to the masses.

Yes, there is a secret to surviving the challenges that 2014 has hidden up its celestial sleeves! Yes, there is a way to overcome the worst of the challenges that we can imagine in the darkness of our sleepiest nightmares. Yes, there is a way to move forward in 2014, like a pilot, knowing that you are equipped to reach that far off waypoint, marked on the calendar at the end of December.

The secret is simple, and it has several components:-

1. Hard work. Without constantly working hard towards the goal, you cannot complain if you do not make it. Long hours, few off days, and waking up in the night thinking about a solution - are all part of working towards success.

2. Perseverance. The ability to continue in the face of adversity - a personality trait that often annoys others, but leads the carrier of the mentality towards success - despite the naysayers!

3. Determination. Get it into your head that you are going to overcome - and keep that at the front of your mind. Be ready to step out and take the risk - if you believe that you are able to succeed. Do not be put down, put off or put away by others - breath in, chest out, head up and set your chin steadfastly out - then march forward to win your battles. (Always remembering that losing the odd battle has nothing to do with the overall outcome of your conflict!)

4. Faith. Have your faith in your God, your purpose and the people you work with. Trust, believe in them, but never forget to believe in yourself! You can do it. You will do it. 

5. Read. Read a lot - about all sorts of things. Fiction and fact. Current Affairs and biographies - and some fantasy too. Reading is one of the most inspiring things you can ever do. Try to set aside at least one hour per day to reading. (even reading the newspaper - or internet news feed - even this column on a Monday!). Reading stretches your mind, ploughs the fields of your grey matter and plants the seeds of innovation like no other activity known to mankind.

May we all be together in January of 2015, with fantastic stories to tell, with a host of fantastic experiences - with tears of joy and sadness banked away - moments of fear and fun worn with pride and to know without doubt that we will have made a positive difference to all around us in 2014.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics (www.waasps.com www.medicineonthemove.org e-mail capt.yaw@waasps.com)