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Friday, March 16, 2012

My first Drop Experience

Submitted by Soumya Saklani

I turned up as usual for my 7:00am morning lesson recently, excited more than usual as I had recently done my 1st solo. Little did I know that a pleasant ‘surprise’ awaited me.

Jonathan asked me what I wanted to do that day (a) do normal circuits & touch & gos or (b) sponsor & fly to Battorkope village on the other side of the 1,800ft ridges and over the lake for a ‘drop’ mission (the drops contained invitation materials for the forthcoming fly me day) to Battorkope village (the only approved drop site at the time) on the fringes of Lake Volta 30kms from Kpong & 3-4hrs by road (20 mins flying time) each way. I would fly all the way to the village and back whilst Jonathan would take over once we were near the village for the actual drop (which turned out to be some very fancy flying!).

Now circuits & touch & gos are great to do...but it don’t think it took me long to say ‘plan B’ – fly over lakes & mountains & do something actually meaningful? Yup, sign me up! The flying itself was exciting & a whole new experience – instead of doing the usual circuits @ 600ft, we took off & turned north-west & kept climbing to 2,000 ft to clear the ridge line. My 1st flight over the ridges & I learnt a lot about flying over them, mountains, long water bodies – including handling any emergencies, up & down drafts etc. We ended up flying close to 3,000ft – the highest I’ve ever flown till now. The scenery – the lake, ridges, greenery, scenic villages etc. were breathtaking in itself & made the entire 1 hr flight worth its while.

File Photo: Battorkope

As we got close to the village, Jonathan took over the controls to carry out the series of safety & protocol manoeuvres associated with a ‘drop’ flight – including 1st fly within hearing distance of the village chief’s house (adding power at the right moment), waiting for the designated village representative to come to the ‘drop zone’ (the village school yard) donning the hi-vis vest and then flying over the school yard for the actual ‘drop’, some precision flying, and constant awareness of 'glide clear' involved given the small size of the village! Sometimes I felt we were flying a helicopter! By now I had the plastic package in my hand and as instructed, waited for the ‘3...2...1’ count from Jonathan to release the pack straight down on ‘1’ the moment we were directly over the yard. Jonathan circled back to check the ‘recovery’...’they’ve got it – confirm package recovered...mission successful’!

File Photo: Battorkope
And once we were clear of the zone, I was on the controls again & this time took a slightly longer but equally scenic route back to Kpong – with some more new learnings about lakeside farming, heading, winds, crossing water bodies etc. Also flew past the big underwater tree logging operation, the largest fish farm in WA (8 million fishes) site as well as an abandoned airstrip at the edge of the lake! Nice crosswinds at Kpong made for a very interesting landing experience as Jonathan demonstrated the crosswind landing technique (crabbing into wind & then getting her straight just before touchdown & dipping ‘into wind’ aileron to prevent that wing from lifting on taxiing).

As I drove back to Accra, something felt different that day about what I had just done...I realised that this was my 1st ‘mission’ or should I say ‘flight’ to change lives, one flight at a time...

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