Submitted by Jonathan Porter
5th March 2011: As the sun kissed the clouds, with a reddish tint prior to casting its light upon the runway at Kpong Airfield, four young Ghanaian women, Ciara, Juliet, Lydia and Emmanuella, were walking, eyes scanning the runway surface, making a final check before one of the busiest sessions of flying in West Africa.
By 06:30 a bus with twenty-five children from Techiman arrived. Four aircraft lined up neatly at the runway edge. At 07:30 four children were walked to the aircraft by the AvTech students who had just completed their FOD walk. Ghana’s young people, who see a future in aviation, escorting four young people to their first flight in an aircraft, perhaps even their first time near one.
Erin Nolan from the NYPD Aviation Unit led, flying in 9G-ZAE, an X-Air Falcon. Erin, at the end of her annual leave, having spent five weeks in Ghana sharing her aviation experience, was ready to share ‘one-on-one’ the marvel of flight with youngsters from Ghana.
Melissa Pemberton, international aerobatics display pilot, sat in the second plane. At the start of her annual leave, donated to the youth of Ghana in aviation and health-related matters. 9G-ZAA, the principal training aircraft at Kpong, was securely strapped onto her shoulders, for she prefers to wear a plane, as witnessed by thousands at shows, as she too received her first youngster to thrill into the skies.
Then Patricia Mawuli Nyekodzi, Ghana’s own Aviation diva, the woman who had been one of the conversion instructors for the above two pilots, sat waiting for her ‘children’ to come out to the aircraft. Patricia loves aviation and loves sharing it. Sitting in the ‘freshly-re-clothed’ X-Air Hawk, registration 9G-ZKT, which she had completed the test flight sequence on the day before, an aircraft that has just been returned to a shiny new finish by herself and her team of girls in the workshops.
Finally, in the fourth plane on the line, sat yours truly, Captain Yaw, in 9G-ZAF, the CH701 STOL aircraft, emblazoned with the Medicine on the Move (MoM) logo. Like the other aircraft, this aircraft has been built in Ghana, by Ghanaians. Looking across at the fence line, the smiling face of the first youngster of the day changed the overcast to the brightest sunshine you could imagine. Life itself emanated from each of the four youngsters as they approached the aircraft and pilot that would release them from the bonds of earth for a few minutes.
As the Techiman twenty-five completed their flights, Kete Krachi’s representative youngsters arrived, fresh from their boat trip, courtesy of Volta Lake Transport Company, and kept the planes in-cycle. Each student getting one take-off, one circuit of the airfield and one landing, in the cockpit. After the Kete Krachi twenty, it was the Carol Grey twenty, from Somanya’s little school in Lower Manya. Later, forty-five students from Upper Manya, mainly from communities around the lake edge, took their turn.
For five straight hours, the four pilots sat in their planes, welcoming child after child, awakening in each one something that only aviators can appreciate. A special dawning of a glorious light that can only be experienced in a cockpit, a few hundred feet above the ground. One hundred and eleven children were flown, plus Nurse Lydia who had been on first aid duty, a willing MoM volunteer who filled the last seat on the last run of the session. There were no missed approaches, no bouncy landings, not one person was sick or injured, the only injuries of the day caused by excessive smiling – especially by the pilots – all of whom gave their time and energies freely. As much as the first students of the day ‘beamed’ and transformed, so did each and every young person who climbed towards the clouds of inspiration, flew along the paths of discovery and descended to the runway of new opportunities. These young people were changed and changed those around them, magnificently.
Such an event is only made possible by the ground team, led by Matthew and Kojo, those who mowed the runways, prepared the show ground, drove the buses, etc. The focus group was the young people from rural Ghana, or the real Ghana as I prefer to call it. Theo Ago, from Air Traffic Control gave up his day off to help and cover the radio in case of emergencies, others from a variety of companies, mainly Managing Directors and CEO’s came along and sat with the young people before, and after their flights, interacting with them, asking questions and realising that there is an enormous amount of magnificent energy waiting to be tapped into out there. The energy from the real/rural Ghana is immense, and it is, in my experience and opinion, a much more pure form of energy than found in the urban areas. It really is as if God has passed out a blessing to those who live in less fortunate surroundings, with few amenities and more challenges to make it through each day, than to those in suburbia and ‘down-town-central’.
All of this was filmed tirelessly by another volunteer, Rex Pemberton, who used so many cameras – in cockpit, on wing, on the ground and around the place, that at times we wondered what would be filmed next. The team from e-TV was present, Crystal Jeanne staying true to her word that she would be at this event, from when she heard about it first at the Be Bold Show. Those who have seen her emissions know that Crystal is a smiling person, but you could see on her face that her smile was being exercised some extra degrees – as all of our faces enjoyed the moments. This event was about changing lives, one flight at a time – even just watching one flight is all that it takes to transform a dull eyed ‘nowhere to go’ youngster to a beaming innovative energy of tomorrow – how much more so if in the cockpit!
During the ground discourses, a few outstanding students were selected to return to Kpong Airfield later in the year, for a week in the workshops. Perhaps, just perhaps, out of these few, one or two will make it to becoming a flying instructor or aircraft engineer. Perhaps, in a few years one of these students will be flying alongside Patricia leading more and more Ghanaian’s into the skies, flying missions out to their own communities under the Humanitarian Aviation Logistics programmes, changing more and more lives, one flight at a time… just perhaps.
Experience is a good gift. Inspiration is a good gift. Love is a good gift. When we give money we create a short term moment that is quickly lost. When we give experience, we crack open a door. When we give inspiration we open a door wide. When we give love, we keep that door open.
It was expensive, but what price can you put on the transformational inspiration that poured out on this day? For all of us who were involved, it was, without a doubt, priceless.