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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Five Weeks in a Balloon.... well not quite...

Submitted by Jonathan Porter
Jules Verne wrote in 1863 'Five Weeks in a Balloon' an impossible trip... a trip across Africa in a hot air balloon. His story captured the hearts and minds of millions and contributed to the aviation of today in more ways than one.

Nonetheless, I am sure that he had many people put him down with comments about the impossibility of such a feat. His original assumption had some flaws, but those initial flaws have not prevented correction and realization through the application of experience.

In 1994 I postulated about an around Ghana flight. In 1996 I flew from Accra to Kumasi in a light aircraft (a two-stroke Weedhopper) and made a precautionary landing in the rain forest - that is another story. Earlier this year we even tried to organize an around Ghana rally, but it failed to materialize.

Dreams and visions only become realities through persistence and stubbornness, mixed with a little crazy and a lot of careful planning. Throw in some authorizations from the authorities and anything is possible...

With the lead up to the Aviation Education day and our annual 'biggest little air show in West Africa' event, it seemed that we needed to prove once and for all to the naysayers that our aircraft are more than up to the jobs we slate them for. So, an around Ghana promotional flight HAS to be done. After weeks of seeking approvals and talking to the right people, we are now set to do, as far as we know, the first ever flight around Ghana, passing all 10 regional capitals, in three days, in a light aircraft.

Those who know the terrain in Ghana will know that we have coastal Savannah, rain forest, gallery forest, rivers, lakes, and more - just about every unpleasant, yet beautiful, terrain possible to fly over. There are risks. Some of those risks are too high for some people to accept. However, crossing the road has risks, as does eating from certain fast food outlets...

Why do we take the risk of crossing the road? Because the benefit of crossing the road outweighs the risk. We learn to mitigate against the risk by looking both ways and choosing an appropriate place and time to cross the road. Those who choose to just walk across the road anywhere, anytime, anyhow, tend to gain a Darwin Award, and fail to recount the tale about how they died unnecessarily on this planet.

The benefits of this trip outweigh the risks many times over when we consider rural development, and if we truly want to establish a nationwide flying doctor service. So, with careful preparation, sound planning, experience and a well built and maintained aircraft, MoM, supported by WAASPS and the Expresso group (a telecoms company) are setting out to fly around Ghana.

Departure, in 9GZAF our CH701, will be at 06:30 on the first of November. We expect to fly VFR on top to cross the first ridge, that of the Akwipim-Togo range, and then fly past Koforidua in the Eastern Region, swinging down to the coast and past the old slave forts we will pass abeam Cape Coast in the Central Region, before landing at Takoradi, the home of the Oil Platform Helicopters, in the Western Region. After a short break we will head north to Mim for a touch and go and then land at Sunyani in the Brong Ahafo Region, for press conference and an overnight.

Tuesday the 2nd November will be the most tiring day. We will depart Sunyani early, touch and go at Techiman, if the weather permits, before climbing north towards the bottom of Sahara (but we wont get that far) and to land at Wa in the Upper West. We may see elephants along the way as we pass over Mole Game reserve, as an added bonus. From Wa we will swing a passage past Bolgatanga in the Upper West before descending to land in Tamale. Another press conference and overnight in the Capital of the Northern Region.
Wednesday, the 3rd and final day of the trip, will see the leg southwards to Kumasi in the Ashanti Region, then a trip westwards to Ho in the Volta Region before turning southwards once again to land in Accra, the Capital of Ghana.

A 2000km trip, in an aircraft built in Ghana by Ghanaians, and the Pilot will be Patricia Mawuli, the first woman to obtain Ghana's National Pilots Licence. At just 22 she has more flying hours and experience of flying over hostile terrain than most obtain at such a young age.

We will carry survival and engineering equipment and only refuel at Sunyani and Tamale. I will sit right seat and only take the controls to allow Patricia a rest for about five minutes in every hour.

Upon completion of this trip it will be impossible to say that these aircraft are not up for the job. We KNOW what they can do, but it seems we have to prove it.

We will take photos and video and hope to make a short documentary about the flight. Most of all, we hope to increase understanding of light aviation and confidence in the Zenith aircraft that we are building to change lives, one flight at a time - even if this flight will be a long one!

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