Thursday, June 12, 2014

June 9th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Each week I sit down to write this column, not knowing exactly what will spill from my fingers onto the keyboard. Whether it is about safety, education, economics or our political challenges... I always find a clear and strong correlation to the world of Aviation. Of all the things that mankind has developed, flying machines are the most amazing - and have a need for a very different approach, if you wish to survive! I have often said 'the closest creation to a living being mankind has ever achieved is the aeroplane'. Planes are amazing - they really are. If you have never flown in a small plane, you have not lived. You have not seen the planet from above; you have not experienced the breathtaking beauty of three-dimensional freedom in the skies; you cannot appreciate the life of a bird; you have not been in the elevated position of seeing the world from above; you are, simply put, incomplete. 

Imagine that you had never sat in a car or a tro-tro... you could not 'know what it is like'. However, after the fifth or sixth time in a tro-tro, or any other motorised vehicle, you are 'immune to the sensation'. It becomes 'boring'. Flying is not like that, not at all. I have made thousands of flights - and every single time it is awe-inspiring. You would not believe how much so, unless you fly! I aviate most weeks, generally over the same parts of Ghana, in the Eastern Region, and I find that it is always vibrant, new, exciting and amazing. Flying really is 'spiritual'. It moves you deep inside, it opens up your mind, your heart and your spirit. Flying is incredible. You may even feel as if you could reach out and touch the face of God...

There is nothing magic about the act of flying - it is simply physics. Four forces working together; Lift, Drag, Thrust and Weight. You need enough thrust to overcome drag to enable forward movement so that the air over the wing generates more lift than the weight of the ensemble - and you are flying. It is that simple. The theory of flight is a science, but flying itself really is the ultimate art form. As a pilot you paint your way through the sky, you carve holes in the air, you ride the invisible waves of the wind, you become one with the currents of air, and then, when the time sadly comes around, you control with precision the moment and position of contact between machine and planet. Just writing about it makes me woozy! It is not a new feeling... in fact one of the Royal Air Force's World War II Spitfire pilots wrote:

"Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air....

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
- Put out my hand, and touched the face of God."

John Gillespie Magee Jr., 1941

To this day, those same sentiments and emotions are held in the minds and hearts of every impassioned aviator. Aviation is, it seems, a sort of 'religion'. It is a way of living your life. The rules, if allowed to flow through your whole existence, are strong, worthy and positive. Those who break the rules of aviation are doomed, one day or another, and it catches them up. You cannot cheat on an aircraft - you cannot break the rules of the air, for if you do they will slam you with a mortal blow. Yet, if you respect the rules, work as a team, ensure the planning and the maintenance, hold to the values of honesty and attention to detail - you reap the rewards - not just in the air, but on the ground also.

How can it affect you on the ground? Well, one of our ex-students is now working in another country, in a nice new job. It has nothing to do with aviation. Yet, when he met me recently he said 'Aviation has changed the way I work - it has made me a better person, and a better manager'. I asked him to expound, and he explained 'I find myself making quicker and better decisions, seeing the impact of things and being able to navigate my job and life better'. 

Aviation is about rules, and rules, when applied fully and daily, make for a more defined, fulfilling and successful life. Without rules, without values, there is no purpose, no satisfaction and no order. This is the basis of successful human - and society - development. 

It is not surprising therefore, that as we see the rules of development and economic growth being dropped into the waste disposal unit, we find that there is a growing dissatisfaction, and a lack of achievement around the world. Those countries with strong, honest and corruption free regulatory frameworks grow faster and more sustainably than those with a more 'laissez faire' attitude. The corruption riddled, rule ignoring societies appear to be the ones that slip down the slippery slope of despair for their people, finding instability and poverty as their reward.

You cannot take an aircraft into the air without all the parts in place, proper training, good health and a suitable support structure. Well, you can, once... but it won't end well. And so it is with our society as a whole. We must get all the parts in place, ensure proper training at all levels for all citizens, a stable and effective health system - and make sure that our support structures are solid - whether that is our relationship with the international community, ECOWAS and the WTO or with international investors, who shore up accelerated development. Then, and only then, can we enjoy safe and sustainable 'flight' - provided we maintain all the factors that get us there.

Of course, the same applies to a business, a family or even a school or college. Like it or not, Aviation lays down the basics that are proven to work, and we can all learn from them - whether we want to fly or not!

Well, I am off to fly now - following the rules, and enjoying the benefits.

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

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