Monday, February 24, 2014

February 24th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

When we look around us, not just in Ghana but across the world, we see demands for 'tradition, tradition, tradition'. We see tradition used as a control word for individuals and the masses. Yet, we quickly forget that we all have what we have today because tradition is not static; it is not fixed, it is not a law; it is not a requirement - and it can develop, change, be forgotten or be broken with. In fact, it is essential that we all break with tradition, at least at some point, if we want to grow into what we can truly and magnificently become.

Traditionally, women could not do certain jobs - even fly! Even though that has changed in most parts of the world, less than 7% of all pilots are women, even today. I remember meeting a physically small woman in the USA - she looked like a character out of 'The little house on the Prairie'. He grey hair, small size and pleasant smile was a trap into thinking this was a bread baking, house cleaning 'ma' out with her patent handbag for a stroll. How far from the truth was that! She was a retired Boeing 747 Captain! Once she spoke, her physical size was further dwarfed by her giant character. She was punchy - her manner would have knocked ZoomZoom Nelson back to the ropes! I sat there enthralled at her tales of breaking tradition - the struggle she went through so that others might not have to. She was very good at challenging perceptions and misconceptions! She would take multiple cushions to work with her to be able to adjust the seat to her frame - and then flew those magnificent giants of the sky around. It was not easy, and she overcame many challenges and negative attitudes. This lady had broken more traditions and blasted away more gender and size stereotypes than I could imagine. She has inspired me, and many others. She has given us all, should we wish to take it, an inspiration to change our stand - not just in words, but also in deeds and thoughts, towards what women can achieve as well as what those of 'smaller than average stature' can step up to.

This week a friend posted a fascinating 'idea challenging article' which I read, and admit that I was ashamed to realise how arrogant I may have been in making some 'well intentioned tradition statements' over the years.

The post was meant to challenge our thoughts about 'tradition' and what we say, as well as how we treat others who may not have the same 'social framework as ourselves'. Sometimes we forget how barbaric our traditions have been across the ages. Yet, we hear the word 'tradition' banded about as if it were as mighty as Thor's Hammer! Tradition is too often used as an excuse to control, limit and manipulate people - often by those in authority - from husbands to bosses and... well, you can complete the list!

Our past experiences and methods are clearly essential components of our development into what we are today. However, our non-reasoned adherence and clinginess to tradition is preventing our positive developments towards tomorrow. We must stop believing in, or following, what we now know is no longer relevant nor correct.

Our approaches to relationships, marriage, women's rights, working on certain days of the week and more have to change - regardless of our 'religious', 'ethnic', 'gender-concept', 'tribal' or even 'political' traditional positions . The fact is, we all live on a planet that is in change. Right now that change is happening faster than ever before. It is fuelled by an ever growing information engine that has shrunk the planet and its entire population to be able to sit in the palm of my hand - thanks especially to Apple and Samsung! Sometimes it scares me - most often it awes me. Nonetheless, we must all accept that we are caught up on a big spinning ball with several billion people, with a variety of beliefs and approaches. Some of these beliefs and approaches may affect our family life, others scientific development, and of course our opportunities. Sadly, there are still some people out there who fail to recognise that each and every human being should be able to choose for themselves their future, and that each person has a free spirit, a free mind - and that any physical constraints or limiting of opportunities can only feed the desire of mind and spirit to break tradition. Nobody should be able to 'force a tradition' on another person, provided that in being free nobody is harmed physically, as part of that choice.

The 'tradition' of stoning people to death has pretty much died out and we have replaced such punishments with more 'humane' solutions - and even no-action for many of the so called 'crimes of our traditions'. There are times when each of us, whether we are ready to admit it or not, still feel a primeval flinch from our barbarian days - fortunately the vast majority of us know how to control that feeling - and that is the basis on which our species has been able to develop to the levels we enjoy today. 

I am pleased to say that I work in an environment where religion, ethnicity, skin-colour, physical size, disability, ability and gender have no constraints on what can be achieved. I enjoy working where the management do not allow promotion of religious or political beliefs. I enjoy the spirit of equality that is ever-present at my workplace. Each person is able to reach their own potential - if they work at it - not because of who they are, or where they come from - but simply because they have worked to achieve it.  

Before you say to somebody 'you can't do that because you are ......' or 'you must do that because you are....', think again! Are you using a tradition or stereotype to control and prevent others from reaching their full potential? We have ALL had this done to us at some point in our lives - we must now make the effort to break that chain of past developmental-constraint in order to permit positive development and growth of those with whom we work and live with.

Let us show more compassion, let us enable more of those we know and work with to be what they can be - and then we will all know what freedom from tradition really means.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

Monday, February 17, 2014

February 17th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

I was recently privileged to visit the Science Museum in London, with my wife. Of course, our first stop had to be at the aerospace gallery! The place was filled with historical, and contemporary, examples of aviation development and space exploration. From the earliest engines and airframes through to space ships and Mars rovers! 

Clearly, the early aircraft were often the most amazing, from a 'how did they do that?' point of view. They were built without computer models, without CNC machining options, without prior knowledge of what they were doing - but always with passion and a love for what they did. The underlying story was not one of 'profit-hunting', but one of 'adventure-seeking'. The desire to do something different, make something new, break a boundary, be different and make a difference, without any monetary incentive, underlies every great advance, and every great person.

We were able to visit the 3-D projection of the Red Arrows aerobatic display - which was nice, and provided some inspiration - but nothing compared to seeing close up the work of those early aviators. We then went into a full motion flight simulator - which came nowhere near to the feeling of a real plane... not even close! (I will admit that we 'crashed' once, and that was nothing like the real thing either - for we are both alive and well after hitting the ground in a loop at low level! All it took was a few seconds for 'reset' and we were back at three thousand feet in a barrel roll - nothing like the real thing at all!)

Now, think back to those early aviators, they often died trying out their ideas, for there is no 'reset' in real life - it is 'do or die', and that makes it much more valuable than any interest in 'profit' - it has to be 'passion'! Without passion you cannot begin to think of stepping out of the 'safe zone'. Without passion our 'lack of certainty' holds our hearts back from realising their dreams. If we deny our hearts desires too often, our heart simply stops prompting us, and accept that the 'status quo' is all that it will be allowed to experience. With it, our passion dies. 

During my time away, I also read the book 'The Alchemist' by Paulo Coelho, which echoed my own feelings about adventure, discovery, and the unwritten language of the world. If you haven't read it, do take a couple of hours to read it! Some of the quotes in this thought provoking book should be shared, to whet your appetite to read this inspirational story...

'There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure' - how many times have we come across that reasoning for not stepping out! Yet, those early aviators really had to pack their fear of failure out of sight!

'When we love, we always strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.' - passion has so many benefits - and not only for ourselves but for others too. Look at the knock on positives of aviation and engineering, that the passion of those early creators of flying machines enabled, that is evident in all of our lives today!

'The simplest things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them.' - when we look at the simple, effective designs of those early machines, we wonder why on earth we didn't come up with the ideas before. So many times we try the complicated before going with the simple - and that takes wisdom; wisdom often only learned from trial and error of the more complicated solutions!

Perhaps, the most striking quote to share is 'Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity.' - how many times do we fail to step out, step up and do something because of our fear of losing what we have, being laughed at or simply not succeeding?

The title of 'The Alchemist' refers to the ancient belief that one could turn any base metal into gold. The 'magical stories' of Alchemy (the art of the Alchemist) resolve around learning how to transform lesser elements into two components - the Philosophers Stone and the Elixir of Life. The idea being that those who found 'the path' would be able to use the Philosophers Stone to convert metals into gold (aka riches), and, at the same time, use the Elixir of Life to gain immortality. It was all about being 'Rich and immortal' - sounds familiar to what I hear as aims and ambitions on the streets of London, Accra, Kumasi, Kpong, Paris, Las Vegas, etc. today... So, let us look closer at the life of an alchemist of great repute.

Robert Boyle, who was born on the 25 January, 1627, was a philosopher and alchemist - but, as with all the other alchemists (before and since), never managed to transform any base metal into Gold - nor to obtain immortality (he died on the 31st December 1691). However, he did achieve the principles of Alchemy. He is often referred to as the first chemist or the father of chemistry - the science of understanding the elements and their compounds, and transforming molecules into new and exciting compounds. Clearly, this has given him immortality, at least in name and positive reputation! 

Sometimes, we set out to achieve something, and although we may appear to have experienced failure, we have often, in fact, achieved exactly what we set out to do just in another guise! Boyle is proof that immortality has nothing to do with our physical lives, but more about what we leave behind us after our bodies are no longer useful. Boyle also proved, we see in hindsight, that the gold he was able to create was not the element, but something much greater. Our medicines, the plastics we use every day, the fuel for our cars and aircraft, the chemical reactions developed to power our batteries and more - all are rooted in those early scientific works of Boyle. He may have set out to transform one element into another - but instead he laid down the framework to change the world - and to actually extend the life of those who came after him through the wonders of chemical sciences.

If we do not follow our hearts, we can never aspire to the 'effective alchemy' of Boyle. We must learn that we can balance any amount of negative with a small positive - we just have to learn first how to move the fulcrum towards the negatives! (imagine a balance where you can move the pivot point - the amounts on each side need no longer be equal for the scales to balance!). 

Perhaps too many people are focused too much on 'money and longevity'. Perhaps we should seek more to leave a positive life changing legacy for those around us, to create a change that lasts in society, rather than changing lead into gold. The pursuit of positive change has much greater meaning than any amount of riches! Our values must be readjusted if we are to aspire to more than ending up as a gold adorned, wrinkled corpse...

As Martin Luther King Jr once said, 'It does not matter how long you live, but how well you do it.'

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

Monday, February 10, 2014

February 10th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

The number of people left believing that our planet is flat, is, I hope, statistically insignificant. Until a certain point in time, sailors would not venture out of sight of land, for fear of sailing off the edge of the planet. They had good reasons too! So many sailors had ventured out of sight of land, never to return! Clearly, they had not simply died, but they had 'gone over the edge'... It was a simple explanation - easily believed, fitted within the confines of using fear to control, and made perfect sense to the faith based 'limited creation' of a god. Look at our poor sailors - they went too far and failed to return. Different cultures had the concept of a spherical planet and by the 6th century it was pretty much universally accepted that the planet was a spinning ball in space. It took another thousand years to widely dispel the myth that the sun, stars, etc. were orbiting the earth! History confirms, time and time again, that 'it is easier to fool somebody than it is to convince them that they have been fooled', a quote attributed to Mark Twain!

Understanding our planet, our solar system, our universe and the immenseness of space itself is important to our understanding of ourselves, and the development of our society as a whole. Yet, the pursuit of science has been abhorred by so many, even more so postulations of theories, based on observations!

The underlying concept described in the phrase 'We only fear what we do not understand' is often the cause for such behaviour. Sadly, Church leaders and Politicians have learned to manipulate such fears to their own benefit for a long time. Copernicus and Galileo were victims of such attitudes, even imprisoned for telling scientific truths that went against the religious and political propaganda of the day. In the days when it was decreed that the earth was stationary and the sun orbited the earth (geocentric dogma), It was considered, against the law, to teach that the earth orbits the sun (heliocentric theory). A simple, obvious fact that we all accept today. How many generations did it take to break the false-'truth' of the earth being the centre of the universe? Too many, and the impact on development of mankind and science has been incredibly negative. 

What I find most amazing is that Science is always ready to change position, based on facts discovered - and that politics and religion are hard pushed to change a position, for it is in their concrete boots that they find stability. It is a shame that so many great thinkers have been silenced, some by being put to death over scientific theories that challenge political and religious thinking. 

One of the least well known names is that of Giordano Bruno. Bruno was put on a seven year trial, which ended in his execution by burning at the stake, for his scientific beliefs and teachings. Now, some of his ideas were perhaps a bit wonky, but should he have been put on trial for postulating new ideas? Bruno was one of the earliest thinkers to propose exoplanets - a planet orbiting a star (remember that stars are simply suns in other solar systems). This idea, amongst others, cost him his life in February 1600.  

Others postulated the same concepts as Bruno, but it was not until 1992 that their existence was proved. Today, we have logged over 1,000 confirmed exoplanets, and postulate that there are, in fact, billions of them. The past 20 years have seen astronomers eyes bulge and minds spin as they gain more and more knowledge past the edge of our own solar system and deep into space.

It is just recently that we have come to understand how suns are born, out of Gas Giants - and our understanding of how suns and planets are born has gone from a frail theory towards firm facts.

The scale of these dynamics is so immense and so majestic - and yet even today there are people who fail to embrace the knowledge that is being discovered, simply because it does not fit within their 'received envelope of the possible'.

Much as those who fly aircraft are still accused of being 'magicians' in some places, and the theory of flight dismissed by a remaining few pockets of thought-rejecters, so there are still many to convince that we are nothing but a mere speck in a magnificent universe. The most important thing is that we are a thinking and discovering speck.

Even though my body is nothing but a collection of atoms, mainly water (65% by mass and over 98% by molecular count!), I am able to reason, think and learn. 

Thankfully, I was allowed, even encouraged, to read amazing books as a child - fact and fiction. Now, as I look back, I find that some of the facts that I learned have been superseded, and some of the fiction that I read has now become fact! For instance, the Planet Pluto, is no longer considered to be a planet. Furthermore, the fanciful idea of a handheld device that would allow me to see and hear a caller on the other side of the planet, without any wires connected, is no longer limited to pages of speculation and movie makers deceptions - it is real and in my pocket!

This year we will see the start of space tourism, thanks to the vision and finance of Richard Branson at Virgin Galactic - who has already sold over six hundred tickets at $250,000 each! Those people who have paid up front, without any proof of service ever coming to pass, are about to go boldly where 'ordinary people' have never before been. 

It was once thought simply not-possible that space travel would ever happen - the very concept of leaving earths gravity was too extreme for many minds! For the Virgin Galactic astronauts, after they return to terra firma, some of them will still not be believed when they tell their tales of orbiting the earth, floating weightless and then re-entering the earths atmosphere to land in a space glider. 

Being believed should never be something you seek - only the achieving. It matters not what others think - develop your ideas, make your plans, carry out your research and discover yourself through the trying and opening of new doors to new futures - and never be put off by those whose mental mobility is constrained by thinking-mud!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

Monday, February 3, 2014

February 3rd, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

It is over twelve years now since they killed it. Well, it appears dead - but it may just be in a coma. Exactly who put it into this condition we do not know, even though blame is given out freely. But it appears to be dead, with no visible signs of any attempt of resuscitation being made. It went into this state, along with many other things, on that fateful 11th September 2001. We all remember that day and the tragedy of the moment. But only a few of us appear to mourn the demise of an aviation legend that was snatched in the immediate aftermath. 

I grew up able to visit the cockpit of an airliner. All that you needed to do was ask to 'visit the flight deck', and if possible the crew worked to make it happen. My children grew up visiting the cockpit on every flight they made. They will always remember visiting the crew in flight on their first trip to Ghana aboard 9G-ANA, the Ghana Airways DC10. 

I have two very powerful memories that impacted my life in the cockpit of airliners. The first was on a regional flight to Edinburgh. I had asked to visit the flight deck, and been granted the visit. The captain asked me to strap into the jump seat (the seat between the flight crew, just behind them) and we talked avidly about the instruments and the challenges of the short hops these regional planes do. I was not a pilot - I was a 'wannabe pilot'. I had taken a few lessons at a local flying school, but was far from completing my licence - both in time and finances. The weather was poor. Fog, with visibility below 700m, awaited our arrival. As the captain made the 'prepare for descent' announcement, I got ready to leave the cockpit, but he said, 'No, you asked lots of good questions. Stay there, you will enjoy this.' I was about to witness an auto-land - that is when the aircraft lands itself! I watched the altimeter unwinding, then, with barely visible runway lights we heard and felt the screech-boom of wheels touching down - all without control input from the crew. Immediately the 'disengage' was hit and the captain took over control from the computers. Just recounting this moment as I type has me smiling broad enough to span Africa! It was so special, and a story that I have told, re-told, re-lived and relish. It inspired me in so many ways - and made me want to learn more about auto-pilots and auto-land.

The second one was with Cathy Pacific, flying into Hong Kong on a business trip. The crew allowed me, a mere passenger, once again to sit on the jump seat as we aimed for the checkerboard near the court house and turned between the skyscrapers onto the final approach to land. It inspired me, enthralled me and made me more determined than ever to complete getting my own pilots licence.

These were 'special privileges' to be on the flight deck for landing, even before 9/11 - but if you asked, you generally got a treat! If you ask anybody who was privileged to experience even a brief cockpit visit in flight, and they will extol the impact it had on them. I can remember so many of the amazing moments - some were more 'worrying' than others. A particular regional flight made me aware of the MEL (Minimum Equipment List) - something that was new to me before obtaining my pilots licence. I had boarded a small plane on a regional flight within a European country - the cockpit door was open and the captain smiled as I boarded. I stepped left and asked politely 'can I visit the deck in flight?' Immediately, he pulled down the jump seat and said, 'Join us for take off'. I flew the whole trip at the pointy end! I still did not have my pilots licence, but I knew a few things about instruments at this time. I asked why certain instruments weren't working. The reply was 'We don't need them all to work'. I was shocked, but then learned about the MEL! What a great way to learn about 'risk managment'!

These visits, from childhood into adulthood, impacted on my psyche. They inspired me. They educated me. Without them I wonder if I would ever have started to learn to fly - or even completed my licence. I never wanted to be a commercial pilot - just to fly. Those moments provided anchor points for my learning and inspired my desire to do more, and to be more, than just another 'Techi' flying around the world to make or fix things. My heartfelt thanks go to my employers of years gone by for sending me on so many business trips! The journeys certainly had more impact on me than the destinations!

Such inspirational moments have been killed with the worldwide ban on cockpit visits. It is a travesty. It is not some terrorist group that made this happen. It is not some Civil Aviation Authority that caused it. It is not the ICAO or any other group - no, we can blame them - but it is not them. It is a monster, a creature with tentacles so long, deep and penetrating that it can bring even an elephant to a standstill - that is where the blame really lies.

This monster is gaining power of such magnificent proportions it is reaching into our lives daily, wrapping its tentacles around our throats, restricting the air that we breathe. It grips our hearts and stops us caring for others. It binds our legs and stops us stepping out. It even reaches our bank accounts and freezes our spending. Worse still, it can be found in the central bank, preventing action of an innovative nature - it reaches into all aspects of our society with serious consequences.

This monster has taken over the twenty first century world - and it appears that nobody, not even the mighty military forces of the world, are ready to take action to kill it. In fact, it appears that the armed forces and world powers are busy feeding this monster and making it stronger. Perhaps they are encouraging it to gain more power?

This monster that has killed innovation, inspiration and so many potential acts of human kindness is called 'FEAR'. It is the fear of another 9/11 or another bank crash - or simply losing ones job. Let us be honest, even our politicians are fearful of speaking their minds, in case they are being recorded! Fear is taking over the world, and it will kill us all, making us bland, insect-like drones of the master fear givers. 

There is nothing wrong with being cautious. But we must ask ourselves why we see so little innovation; so few people stepping out, trying to make a positive change in the world. What we have created, by allowing the tentacles of fear to wrap around our society and lives, is a 'stagnation of inspiration'.

We all know that stagnant water is not good, not healthy and a breeding ground for disease and vectors of disease. So is stagnation of inspiration. Let us stand up against fear - let us stand up against the suppression of inspiration - and let us revive the inspirational spirit for the benefit of each other, our children and our grand-children.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail