Monday, May 26, 2014

May 26th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Time and time again we hear of aircraft getting into serious trouble through lack of Crew Resource Management. Arguments and lack of listening - not only in relation to other crew members but to passengers also. It is not only the people at the pointy end of the aircraft who have eyes and ears - but everybody on board. Imagine every aircraft is like a small country. The Pilot is the President, the co-pilot his vice, the cabin crew are the cabinet... and the passengers the voting public - or the people. It is no different - the people put their trust in the crew and will end up at a destination, in a particular condition, based principally upon the leadership of that nation.

It is no secret that the economic challenges of Ghana are getting a lot of attention. Whether we consider the just ended National Economic Forum, or the mass of media chatter - in the newspapers, on the television and, in true Ghana style, extensively on the radio chat shows.

It is as if we are trying to create a national CRM approach to running the economy. CRM being Crew Resource Management - or the ability to get everybody on board to contribute towards the safety of an aircraft - in this case our nation.

For a long time we have enjoyed eleven Black Stars playing football with about ten million coaches shouting at them what to do, and how to play. The vast majority of those shouting never get heard. I sometimes wonder if people understand that shouting at a TV set does not assist nor inform the players being watched - even more so when it is not being shown live! Of course, the TV and radio commentators are also hot at shouting instructions, observations - and at times other things (not always polite), all to no avail. Sport is all about a nation shouting what to do, whilst the players just do what they think at the time.

Of course, when watching the WHOLE field, from a place removed from the pitch, you can see a lot more - you can make a better decision - and even if not heard - you can shout out fantastic instructions. When you are watching the replay you can be even more precise in your deliberations. For the players, it would be nice if they could have all of this information gathered, condensed, filtered and delivered directly to their ears whilst playing... but that would actually be against the rules!

When it comes to running a country - or flying a plane for that matter - the rules are actually very different. The outcomes are, of course, much more important. Losing a football match is embarrassing. Losing value on the national currency is devastating. Losing an aircraft is a disaster. Winning a football match makes you feel good. Running a successful economy generates jobs and futures. A successful flight is 'expected'. It is no wonder, therefore, that our 'economic team' have a lot more on their shoulders than the Black Stars. With it, they have every need for the feedback from those with a different angle of view, and for some, the benefit of hindsight - having seen something similar before!

What becomes more interesting is that we are ready to bring on board foreign coaches for the black stars - and foreign pilots to fly our aircraft - but we are appear reticent to take foreign advice on our economy. The 'home grown' solution is laudable - but we must also remember that we have a lot to learn and gain from embracing the fact that Ghana is NOT alone. We are a part of the WORLD. The WORLD wants Ghana to succeed. The WORLD wants to see every Ghanaian earning loads of cash, buying new cars, etc. - simply because trade is now an INTERNATIONAL game. 

Let us look at the European football teams - they embrace African players to give them an edge... and that is just a game. How much more must we embrace international players when it comes to the economy? You always employ the best pilot for the job - regardless of their nation of origin... How much more important to engage the same when it comes to National Success?

It is wonderful to see so many people making their observations about how to fix the economy. It really is. Seeing the masses wanting to make their contribution means that we have a National Team, with a desire for economic success. However, there are times when we simply lack the experience, and would benefit from cross-cultural inputs. I know that in my line of work I am pleased to take advice from people of any nation, gender or belief system - if they have the relevant experience, and a positive attitude, to add benefit and value to operations. Of course, advice may need to be adapted to the local challenge - but at the end of the day, we now live in a melting pot of cultures, a mixed bag of races, with rainbows of colours and all in the village we call Planet Earth. It really is just a tiny spec of dust when we consider the cosmos - and we need to get down to work together - all nations - as one, towards a Planet Wide Economic Solution. That is just a big team. Imagine that the Black Stars represented 11 different nations, all playing together. Then one of them decides to run around and create his own goal posts on the side of the pitch... the other players would simply carry on playing, ignoring him. If he then decides to join the game of nations, and to work as a team - everybody embraces that change of heart and readily plays together - aiming at the ONE goal. Not all players will have possession of the ball for the same amount of time. They don't all earn the same amount of money. they are not all the same size, weight, age or even live in identical houses. BUT they do all work together.

It is the same with the crew of an aircraft. Each person has a role to play, and the passengers too. But it is only if they all work together, including the passengers following the lead of the crew, stepping out of line if necessary for a safety matter, that the flight leaves, travels and arrives safely - in the right place, at the right time. We have all seen what happens when just one passenger - or one crew member - decides to sabotage a flight. Often such 'hijackings' appear to be motivated by good intentions - seeking asylum and a better life, for example. However, it if it is a negative action in relation to the needs of the majority of those aboard - and the world in general, when the plane lands that individual simply loses their freedom - no matter their positive or negative intentions.

So it is with our economy, unless we all work together - like a football team, or the crew and passengers of an airliner, we can quickly end up in the wrong place, with a loss of earnings, dashed opportunities and reduced freedom. We must share our visions, but the crew at the top must be ready and willing to bring to fruition a successful outcome where all arrive at their destination, winners, with a better lot than they started the journey - experienced, equipped and ready to move forwards on the next adventure.

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, May 19, 2014

May 19th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Communication - in all of its forms - is the basis of safe operation of aircraft around the world. Most air-to-ground, ground-to-air and air-to-air communications are carried out using industry standard Aviation Band Transceivers (Transmitter/Receiver). Most radio transmissions rely on 'line of sight' transmission, which works very well for aircraft in the sky and within a certain distance of operation (it varies on the strength of the signal being sent, terrain, atmospheric conditions and the power of the sending/receiving equipment). Radio is not sufficient for all that happens, and no longer meets the communication needs of the modern aviator - especially for larger aircraft. Consequently, there is a host of other information that can be sent and received - often using satellites. Don't forget the receipt of position information using GPS (Global Positioning System), and the aircraft engineering data that can be sent using a variety of systems to provide 'health, position and condition' information, fully automatically, as was used to narrow down the search area for the Malaysian MH370 flight. Sometimes aircraft can lose all their electronic communications - so what happens then? Fortunately, the air traffic controllers will generally keep an eye on the aircraft using radar, and work to help the pilot who has lost all comms. But what happens in that case when such an aircraft is coming into land? Well, there even exists a 'visual communication' system of shining lights from the tower to the aircraft using, internationally agreed, 'steady or flashing' red and green lights. In aviation we understand that communication is key to everybody working together safely, efficiently and happily - whether by voice, lights or data transmissions. A pilot without good communications is going to be disadvantaged in many ways.

It is sad that 'on the ground' humankind is struggling with communication! People 'not speaking to each other', lack of clear communication - and understanding - in so many aspects of our lives. Do you ever feel as if 'no matter how clearly we explain something' others simply do not grasp it - or perhaps ignore it? Perhaps it is a communication problem!

Apart from 'face to face', 'letters' and the printed media, our modern communication systems rely heavily on technology. Television, a simplex system (transmission in one direction only), dominates the promulgation of information from a few to the many. Telephones are duplex systems (allow transmission in both directions), and are essential tools in the modern world of personal and business communications. Most of us use our telephones every day. In many developing nations it is not uncommon to find people living in the simplest of accommodation, often without access to a toilet, mains water or electricity, who own and use a mobile phone. Being able to speak our communications quickly and efficiently across the planet has become an accepted part of our lives - even without understanding all that goes behind it, almost anybody can master the use of a telephone in a matter of minutes. The telephone has changed all of our lives - and if used properly, makes them better.

The telephone network is not just about voice! Data communications over the telephone network has been around for a long time, from the acoustic coupler to the modern day smart phone, we have found ways to send words, images, video and all manner of data across our telephone networks.

Today, if you are not 'connected to the net' you are a seriously disadvantaged person. When I am in Accra, my smart-phone allows me to send and receive e-mails at lightning pace. I can look up prices of items, download technical data, take and send photographs and videos in a matter of seconds. I can download the latest applications that will make my working life more efficient and get updates automatically. Access to information, and the ability to transmit information is key to success in the 21st Century.

Sadly, when I am back at Kpong Airfield in the Eastern Region, I do not enjoy the same connectivity. Phone lines appear to be becoming more and more unreliable - and with it data access. A simple phone call to the USA about parts needed for a machine may take five or six dropped or poor quality calls to get the information sorted out. Data, well, that is worse.

Recently we were sent a very large programme file - essential for our operations. It was impossible to download in the rural area. A 200km round trip to the city just to reliably download a file was called for. That is not competitive. Not at all. But that is the reality of our telecoms. Sending a simple e-mail can take twelve hours or more - just waiting for connectivity.

It is, therefore, good to see that the NCA (National Communications Authority) has been putting pressure on the telecoms companies to improve their quality of service across the nation. But it is more than that.

If we want to see growth in our rural areas we MUST ensure better telecommunications solutions to those areas - it should no longer be a 'wish', but become a 'necessity'. 

Whether it is sending an e-mail; downloading an updated file for the Engine Control Unit of an aircraft or the latest fix to a programme you are using to run your business; being able to access the latest weather satellite image for planning your work activities; the ability able to send a photo of your product; to check on the assembly order of a piece of machinery, or whatever, the need for business to be better connected for smoother operations is clear. But it goes far beyond than that.

Universities, colleges, schools, hospitals, lecturers, teachers, doctors, nurses, students and parents who lack reliable and responsive connectivity are disadvantaged in the world of learning and problem solving. Books are fantastic, and I never want to see a community without a library, but on-line access to data is more rapid, more wide-reaching and more effective than any other information retrieval system out there.

Let us say that in a discussion between a teacher and student the question is asked 'can starfish live in Lake Volta?' It is easy to say 'I don't think so', it may even be possible to say 'No', but to access the reason, you would be hard pushed to find it rapidly in any book readily available - but on line, you can read about the vascular system and be given the reasons in a matter of seconds, adding reliably to your knowledge in real-time - if you have the connectivity. 

What about all the new information coming out daily - work on genetics, use of pesticides, best farming practice, new policies, grant opportunities, etc? Those who have access to communications have the power of access to education, information and opportunities in the palm of their hands. 

I get frustrated at the time it takes to send the Fresh Air Matters column every week... a task that should be as simple as pressing 'send' may require that I change location, work with a variety of different modems - or tether to my smart phone - just because I live in Rural Ghana, and not the city. How much more frustrating is it for a student wanting to research a topic - waiting minutes for page of information to download that takes just seconds for their competitive student in an urban setting.

Lack of effective, reliable and responsive communications systems distributed equally across the people will inevitably result in an underclass of 'low-connectivity' - lacking the ability to connect and communicate to better themselves educationally and to develop their businesses. 

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

May 12th, 2014

 Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

After my suggestions last week for 'essential outcomes of education', I was asked about some particular 'expectations'. I had proposed that all students should be 'indelibly stained with knowledge and the ability to apply it in the world of work', giving examples of certain understandings and skills sets, that for me at least, are essential in all aspects of living and working.

Let us consider in more depth some headlines that have raised a little controversy!

Understanding of ratios

These are essential skills - whether in the workplace, kitchen or on a building site. Correct understanding and execution of ratios is required everywhere. The most common one that gets 'guessed at' is the mixing of concrete - a product we all rely on. A standard 'general purpose' mix would be a 1:2:4 or 1:2:5 mix. That is one volume of cement, with two identical volumes of sand (head-pans, wheel barrows or even buckets, the basic volume of measure does not matter - the ratio of them does!) and then four or five identical volumes of stones. If you have a car engine, it will be working on roughly a 15:1 mixture of air to fuel in the combustion chamber (cylinder). Then there is the ratio of herbicide concentrate to water and the dispersal per acre or hectare... or the mixture for a two stroke engine (chainsaw, outboard motor, some small gensets, etc)... I could go on with examples, but the point is that so many people are unable to identify, work reliably with, or adjust accordingly - and safely - when it comes to ratios!

Cartesian co-ordinates (2 and 3 dimensional)

It really does perturb me that so many people are not at ease with Cartesian coordinates - you know, X, Y and Z axis - and plotting thereon. X is generally referred to as the horizontal axis (also called Y=0), Y is generally called the vertical axis (also known as X=0) and Z is the axis that comes out of the page at you! Z adds '3-dimesnionality' and the ability to locate a point in 3D (real world) space. 

Unless you understand the basics of co-ordinates you cannot produce any parts on a lathe, mill, press, cutter, etc. - manually or under computer control (CNC).

Without an excellent understanding of co-ordinates you cannot use a Computer Aided Design (CAD) programme to produce a drawing... or Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) systems, you cannot do so many things that are considered essential in today's world of information.

Take a look at your mobile phone. The mould for your phone was produced on a CNC mill. Yes, it was. That mill was controlled in X, Y and Z by a simple computer programme, called a G-Code part programme. A sample of the sort of code it would contain (along with an explanation in brackets) would be as follows:

G90 (use absolute co-ordinates, ie work from the axis datum)
G00 X10 Y30 Z0 (position the tip of the tool at X10, Y30 and usually Z0 refers to the top of the work piece, at maximum speed)
G01 Z-0.25 S2500 F100 (plunge the tool into the material with a spindle speed of two thousand five hundred revolutions per minute and a feed rate of 100mm per minute)
G01 X102.52 Y50.35 (move in a straight line to these coordinates which would cut away the top .25mm of material along that line)
G91 (use relative co-ordinates)
G01 X25.6 Y0 (move in a straight line, with the same tool, spindle and feed-rates, at the same depth, since we have not changed Z)

Well, I could go on (and often do), but it really is very simple - and we all have tens of thousands of items and parts around us that are produced using simple systems like this. I have taught G-Code programming to many young people, often as young as seven years old - but it only works when they have the solid basics of co-ordinates. It is not difficult, but it is essential - and it is sadly missing in too many students, teachers and those who should be better equipped.

Able to rearrange a formula to find an unknown variable - correctly.

Well, we have to do this all the time, if we want to be efficient. Just last week I had to rearrange the voltage divider formula V1=V2(R2/(R2+R1)). Without it I could have destroyed a very expensive piece of equipment. Understanding simple re-arrangement of formulae is key to working. Failure to understand can lead to expensive mistakes. Perhaps the most simple, everyday formula that we use is that for another 'hot topic':

Work seamlessly, accurately and quickly in problems related to distance, speed and time.

Distance = Speed x Time. Which is the same as Speed = Distance / Time. Which is the same as Time = Distance / Speed.

The same formula, rearranged to give us the 'missing value'. Of course, you must use consistent units (don't start me on the misunderstandings of unit of measure), so that distance should be in, say, kilometres, time in hours and therefore speed in kilometres per hour. Failure to ensure that the 'appropriate units of measure for the problem are in place', would invalidate the whole thing.

For instance, I know that is approximately 90km from Kpong Airfield to the Accra Mall. I know that it takes me, on average, 90minutes to get there. 90minutes is 1.5hours. So, my average speed is (90/1.5) - or 60km/hr or 1km/min. That was easy, but the principle works for all distances, speeds and times. Yes, we need to know time, speed and distances and be 'mentally conversant with them' to ensure that we are optimised in our travel and timely in our arrival! For pilots this is essential learning since we recalculate our distance, ground speed, and estimated time to arrival on a regular basis!

Be aware of the how light, magnetism and electricity behave and how they can be used in practical applications.

It amazes me how few people are conversant with aspects related to how light travels - and the speed at which it travels. Understanding how shadows are formed; the fact that the image of what you see is 'upside down' on the retina of your eye and that your brain rotates it to make it look 'normal'; how rainbows are formed; why a day is perceived as misty, foggy, hazy, etc. Light travels at 299,792,458 metres per second. It is very fast. Sound only travels at 340.29 metres per second. That explains why, when you see lightning, the sound of thunder comes much later. The sound of the collapsing air hitting together in the vacuum caused by the plasma, called thunder, takes about 3 seconds to travel one kilometre, whilst the light from the lightning (a stream of plasma created by interaction between charged particles in clouds) can cover one kilometre in roughly one three hundred thousandths of a second - what we call, wrongly, 'instantly'.

Magnetism can seem almost like magic, and once was considered as such! The way magnets attract and repel each other is fascinating - but it is more than that. Magnets and magnetic fields are present in so many things around you. Lady's handbags often use magnetic catches, closures on some cell phone cases, the motor that creates vibrations on your phone, the heading determined by a compass in the ship or plane that you travel on, the generators at Akosombo dam, the alternator in the motor vehicle you travel on, and so much more... But what about the magnetic field that surrounds our planet. Earth is a BIG (VERY VERY BIG) magnet. Our planets iron core emits a magnetic field that protects us from cosmic radiation, it provides the field with which we navigate - and is essential to so many animals that use the earths magnetic field in migration patterns. 

Magnetism is even more exciting when we see it along side electricity... but I surely do not need to identify the plethora of items that we all use every day that rely on electricity! Understanding it is essential.

Therefore, knowing the basics of physics and nature, and how to use mathematics to calculate effects, creating new and exciting products should be, without any doubt in my mind, made a priority for every student - and if you are an adult and don't understand it, you should take the time to grasp it, it will open up your world and enable you to do so much more.

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, May 5, 2014

May 5th, 2014

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

I was privileged to have a long chat with a person heavily involved in an European airline recruitment and training programme recently. Aviators are like fishermen, and love to tells stories about what they do, their flights, their challenges and their achievements - and we passed many an hour sharing stories, and learning from each other - for we both accept that we are always learning more.

We discussed the challenge of recruitment in all areas of aviation, and work in general - from pilots to receptionists, cabin crew to sanitation workers. It became clear that both of us were concerned about the standard of education worldwide. How come, in today's world of amazing access to information, internet, educational establishments, well financed, expensive training programmes, etc that so many young people leave school or university with so few retained and repeatable skills - and frankly, little retained and useable knowledge.

I do not accept any excuses whatsoever that ANY student can leave school without being equipped with the majority of the following knowledge set, abilities, skills and attributes - and for them to be so engrained that they remain a working part of their daily life:

·         Multiplication of 2 numbers below 10 in their heads, accurately and repeatedly.

·         Addition and subtraction of multiple numbers - regardless of size, on paper, accurately and repeatedly.

·         Solve a simple problem involving brackets, powers, multiplication, addition, subtraction and division - with or without a calculator.

·         Understanding of ratios, squares, roots, Cartesian co-ordinates (2 and 3 dimensional) and simple graphing.

·         Correct use of average, mean, mode, maximum and minimum in relation to a series of numbers.

·         Able to rearrange a formula to find an unknown variable - correctly.

·         Rapid, accurate mental calculation of 10%, for any number.

·         Know and apply knowledge related to basic 2D geometric shapes.

·         Have a working understanding of circles, angles, areas and volumes.

·         Work seamlessly, accurately and quickly in problems related to distance, speed and time.

·         Able to read out loud, clearly and correctly a previously unseen passage, and then describe and explain what was read.

·         Easily create an accurate written report on events that have taken place.

·         Accurately and succinctly summarise a document, book, report or passage, using original words and structure.

·         Speak, understand and communicate freely in English.

·         Without preparation, speak for one minute on a given, non-prepared, topic without hesitation, repetition or deviation.

·         Understand the basics of elements and molecules, along with a grasp of reactions and various states of matter.

·         Be aware of the how light, magnetism and electricity behave and how they can be used in practical applications.

·         Be able to apply in real life conditions the basics of leverage, centre of gravity, pivots, pulleys and use of/conservation of energy (in all its different forms).

·         Understand the properties and behaviour of, and apply that knowledge in relation to, a wide variety of materials, such as wood, metals, concrete, plastics, glass, rubber, etc.

·         Understand the basics of planetary movement and their effects especially in relation to the sun, moon and our solar system.

·         Grasp and be able to explain the principles of an internal combustion engine.

·         Know the human body (parts and how it works).

·         Understand and apply the principles of good nutrition.

·         Have a working understanding of disease, infection, infection control and good health practices (including family planning).

·         Be able to identify on a globe or map the continents, major countries and features.

·         Understand the concept of longitude and latitude - and use co-ordinates to locate places on maps or globes.

·         Know how the telephone (fixed and mobile) works - and know how to use one appropriately.

·         Have good computer skills (operating system, word-processing, spreadsheet, etc).

·         Understand and use the internet, including e-mail, with ease.

·         Be risk aware, ready to take appropriate risks and mitigate against accidents.

·         Be well presented, with good personal hygiene and a positive, proactive approach to community cleanliness.

·         Be honest, timely and reliable.

I could go on, but that is my basic list (you may have other items, or contest some), but the core is there.

How much of the above knowledge/skills/attributes set do you have? More importantly, would you employ somebody who does? Now, ask yourself, why are we not seeing these basics coming out of the schools and universities? It would be easy to blame the teachers and lecturers - but frankly, I think we need to spread the blame to where it lies: Approximately 60% belongs to the educational system and its values. 20% lies with the educators and their fear of working outside of the syllabus/exam/results cycle. The balance, lies with the lack of pressure to change the system from parents, family and employers.

Education has become a miserable game of 'certificates' and 'qualifications'. It has lost its basic meaning - that of enabling our young people to read, write and calculate; becoming independent thinkers with solid working principles related to the world around them; then enabling them to apply those principles to think, work and change the world around them to become a better place. If we were to return to the basics, we would see better workers, a better society and a renaissance of inventiveness.

Sadly, there is a belief that ticking boxes and passing exams is what education is about. Well, it is not. Education must be about enabling thinking - and encouraging doing. As a qualified examiner and assessor, I can tell you straight up that the mainstream education system is flawed. I quit being an examiner for a major board after being appalled at the manner in which exam questions were phrased and the answers marked.

Where I work, in the aviation and engineering sector, we have been trying to recruit personnel, to train up, with the right attitude to work, the right thinking processes, the right personality and a lot of commitment. During interview we ask, 'what did you study?' in order to slant our questions towards the candidates field of interest. Sadly, we have found that the majority of candidates have retained little of practical use from their studies, and lack the basic foundations of a free-thinking, work-orientated individual. We have never asked to see any certificates - for a certificate means absolutely nothing if the candidate cannot answer questions from their field of study, express themselves clearly in verbal and written form, learn new skills and topics dynamically and problem solve in the field. 

Sadly, I fear that our education systems will continue to decline - with just a few glimmers of hope when an educational establishment, with strong leadership, is prepared to stand up, stand out, and to do it differently. Valuing independent thinking and personal achievement alongside academic achievements has always been the strength of a few isolated, often criticised, institutions - but those are the institutions that create the thinkers that change the world - and the candidates with an advantage in the world of employment and entrepreneurship.  

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