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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Another Airfield opens in Ghana...

Submitted by Jonathan Porter
After my recent mention of Angelina Joli, now I can tell you about my other life, being a pilot in a real life Avatar movie... Zoe Saldana is not, however, present in our part of the planet 'Pandora' - but the Home Trees certainly are.

Today I flew into the newest aerodrome in Ghana, at Mim. It is nestled in a Cashew Plantation between belts of rain forest. The area is very beautiful, surrounded by endless Cashew trees with their unique hues. Flying in to 'officially' be the first plane to open the strip (and to collect the evidence for the authorities that the strip was in order with wind sock, etc) was wonderful.

Located less than 30 minutes flight south of Sunyani, but several hours drive, Mim is, in itself, not a rural community. However, the location is strategic in a wider view of the long term aims of MoM.

The Western Region of Ghana is an area with great needs and very under publicized lack of facilities. Mim offers MoM a gateway to the Western Region without passing over the worst terrain in the country and avoiding Accra and Takoradi. Accra is very busy with big birds (airliners) and Takoradi is home to many whirly birds (helicopters). It is a fantastic achievement to have Mim on-line and we must thank Lars Wallerwick and Mim Cashew for funding the development with MoM as a listed 'collaborator' in their applications. We are at the end of a two year application process and Lars has been very patient. It was a pleasure to fly with Lars to Mim from Kpong - and we hope to fly there regularly as we open sites in the rural areas less than an hours flight from the staging post that Mim offers.

Flying from Kpong Airfield to Mim can be done many ways, but there are two routes that strike as ply-able. The direct route is over the same terrain as the movie Avatar shows - that is Pandora-like. Endless rain forest - emergents, trees that you could settle a hundred people in. Sometimes it feels as if the trees are stretching up to grab you as you fly past! It is certainly not terrain to pass over without a lot of thought and altitude.
The 'safer route' we call the Northern Passage. It involves an extra twenty minutes of flying, but avoids the heavy forests, low lying clouds and turbulence associated with low level flying over such terrain.

As we set off from Kpong we knew that the Northern Passage was the only option - the clouds filled the valley separating the Savannah from the rain forest like a meringue topping. We flew a few minutes VFR on top, seeing the Battorkope strip through a hole in the clouds, until over the lake - then the air smoothed and we could settle below the top of ridge that separates the Afram Plains from the rain forest and cocoa farms on Eastern and Ashanti region.

It was never boring. Waterfalls passed by, field workers waved, and we progressed, watching the weather more intensity than a million watt floodlight - highlighting the need for another staging post along the way.

Crossing the ridge of virgin forest we were safe in the knowledge that a 701 can be landed in under 25m on an upslope, if really pushed. When flying the MoM plane over hostile terrain you know that there is an option somewhere in an emergency!

As we set up our approach for the first landing on the newly approved strip, the jubilation on the ground was evident as young men and women leaped into the air. We slid onto the grass with another smooth, short field landing. The crowd grew as workers, some in clothes that would be used for rags in many parts of the world, filed out from the heavily wooded areas, curious to see the new arrival. Many stated that they had never ever seen an airplane before - and they will tell their children for many years to come of the first landing at Mim of the MoM plane.

Drawing upon my limited local language skills and enlisting a translator we kept the crowd from touching - and since each person was carrying a two foot long blade (machete or cutlass), we did not want them too close. Some words of advice were given - including encouragements to achieve more and be safe - and it was time to get airborne again. Proof of concept achieved and ready for the real work to come.

The cloud ceiling was now high enough to attempt the direct route. All was well and I knew that it would be a rough, tough and tense flight back but with views that few have ever witnessed. I It really highlighted the safety of the Northern Passage. Although the crew would survive in a forced landing here - it may take them weeks to walk out of the heavy forested areas.

The welcome back at Kpong was magnificent - the crew all hyper-happy at the event. It was good to be home after a day of flying over hostile terrain in the sweet little plane, built by hands of a darker hue, flown in skies of blue, under and around grey and white clouds, as it moves around to change lives, one flight at a time....

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