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Monday, November 1, 2010

Day 1 Koforidua to Sunyani

Submitted by Patricia Mawuli Nyekodzi


9G-ZAF : Pilot : Patricia Mawuli Nyekodzi,  Photo-Comms: Capt. Yaw

9G-ZAC: Pilot : Dr Patrick Ata, Nav-Photo-comms: Martin Talbot

Targets: Koforidua, Cape Coast, Takoradi.

Low clouds hugging the ridge and shrouding Krobo Mountain at 06:00 this morning were not good signs.  Nonetheless, in true aviator spirit, we prepared our aircraft for their flights.   All safety precautions were taken, equipment stowed and crews prepared mentally for the trip ahead. 

Our route has been laid out on three laminated map segments – Southern, Central and Northern. Today, the first day, uses the Southern and Central maps.

Media was ready for the departure, and we busied ourselves gaining time as we waited for the break in the clouds that would enable us to gain the transit necessary.  Finally, at 08:00,there were two visible passages, and a clear VFR on top route to Koforidua. 

We waved goodbye and climbed aboard the machines, lining up in tandem on runway 19 of Kpong Airfield, the AvTech girls, cameramen, media-men and media-women. 

As Expresso says ‘Dare to Dream’ and where our dream had started many years ago, today the dream was becoming a reality, thanks to the support of our sponsors for this flight, Expresso, UT Bank, BFT, Wire Weaving, Atlantic and WAASPS.

Operating at maximum weight the aircraft accelerated down the runway and climbed out with a shallow turn to the right.  The sun glimmered through the clouds, but there was still visible rain to the North and to the South of the desired route. 

As we reached 2000 feet, we could see that a VFR On Top route was going to be very acceptable.  Flying over the scattered clouds, with a clear vision of the ground below through the mottled balls of floating cotton wool in the sky.

Arriving at Koforidua, our first Regional Capital on the list, in the Eastern Region, the excitement in the cockpit could be felt so strongly you could have put a rivet in it and it would have stayed suspended in the, seemingly structurally sound, excited air!

Still on top, but with growing holes of clear paths of descent, we cruised on at 3000 feet in the direction of Cape Coast.  Patricia lead the patrol, and Patrick flew about 500m behind in the 4’o clock position (behind and to the right).

Along the way, our eyes feasted on so many marvels… but Patricia’s eyes were fixed like an eagle on the track, instruments and the 6 minute checks that are inbuilt to the competent pilot.  ‘Fuel, Radio, Engine, Altitude, Attitude and Airframe’, checked ten times each and every hour.

Meanwhile, Capt. Yaw, sitting right seat in AF,  was busy snapping out the window or filming the passing countryside as well as being designated the radio operations.

Watching the passing  mango trees, plantain/banana plants, cocoa trees, oil palms, coconut palms, cassava fields, citrus trees, maize and sugar cane fields, it was as if were floating along the isle of some great commodities market, our unique perspective opening our minds to the outstanding potential locked up on the surface below.

Of course, the tropics is not just about things we can eat; the raffia palms majestically, adorn the soggy riverbanks and the mahogany trees, of many different varieties, stand tall from the rain forests.  Ghana has a health approach to forest reserves and it the thick, dense, virgin rain forest blocks that are protected by law, as well as by the majority of the people, cast their long shadows across the countryside.

Radio chatter from the airliners, regional transport and oil field helicopters punctuated the journey and provided our listening watch to pressure changes (which we use to set our altimeter) and weather information.

Using the Ghana SafetyCom frequency between the two aircraft, we occassionly passed a message back and forth.  Our X-Com radios provide for two communications on one frequency and listening on another, switching between the two with quick press of the flip-flop button.  However, the two pilots, both fully trained in Ghana and neither having ever taken a flying lesson outside of the country.

We passed the road construction of the new Accra-Kumasi route, which is much more impressive when you fly over, rather being stuck in a queue of traffic BECAUSE of it!

Later we slid beneath the pockets of cloud, and flew around 600feet above the ground towards the coast at Saltpond.  We deviated slightly eastwards in the hope of snapping an oil rig, but the moisture laden air did us no favours for photography of that sort.  Nonetheless, we were now ideally located for a flight along the coast, littered with coconut palms, decorated with large, hand hewn, wooden fishing vessels befitting of a historical novel. 

The coast between Saltpond and Takoradi has a macabre history.  That of the slave-trade.  The slave castles perched on the waters edge where the, thankfully, long gone trade in people, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters of this land, once occurred.  This blot on mankind’s history has left behind it some magnificent structures.  As in the UK the castles of middle ages, where murder and slavery were commonplace, are now sites of historic interest and a place to take the kids for a picnic; so today these castles make their sentinel like presence available for historical-tourism. 

Castles behind us, we turn inland and position for a right base rejoin to Takoradi’s military airfield, that is also the hub of the aviation activity for the recently discovered, and yet to be exploited, oil-rich waters of Ghana.

With less than three kilometres to run the rains started, splattering the windscreen and coming through the camera openings.  Keeping the flaperons away, Patricia held a high approach and then, reducing the engine power, pushed down for 70kts and flew low over the glimmering damp runway for a smooth, albeit long, touchdown.

Turning off the runway onto the apron, 9G ZAC was low in the sky, wheels yearning to kiss the ground. 
Our designated marshall parked us next to a French registered aerial survey single engine Cessna 206.  The pilot of the 206, a friend who had taken a trial flight with Patricia at Kpong earlier this year, came out to greet, along with the NHV team from the oil rig flyers and the smartly uniformed and incredibly polite Ghana Air Force Personnel.

Patricia and Martin stayed with the crowds at the planes, whilst Patrick and I visited the Base Commander.  Welcomed into his office, where pictures of Ghanaian Military Aviators run the periphery of the room, we exchanged our stories of aviation and thanked the Air Force for their kindness, before heading to the Tower.

In the Tower, we checked the satellite images for weather information and headed back to the apron where our aerial-stallions awaited their riders for the next segment of the trip.

Targets Achieved: Koforidua, Cape Coast, Takoradi.


9G-ZAF : Pilot : Patricia Mawuli Nyekodzi,  Photo-Comms: Capt. Yaw

9G-ZAC: Pilot : Martin , Nav-Photo-comms: Dr Patrick Ata

Targets: Mim, Sunyani

We sat on the apron at Takoradi and watched the grey mass of clouds coming from the East, advancing like a herd of elephants storming across the country.  To the West and slightly North, the change of pressure had spawned another storm cell.   Oil rig helicopters, painted yellow, whisked their ‘self-loading’ cargo of workers to and from the FSPO Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first oil production venture, named after the first president of this stable West African nation.

A Beechcraft 1900D, running ahead of the storm, did a quick turnaround and passed ‘coast side’ to make its way back to Accra.  We did not have that option.

Finally, Captain Yaw spotted a passageway, but the window was small.  The crews slid into the pre-flighted aircraft and called Takoradi for start-up, which was approved by the military controller almost before the call was completed.

There was no need to back track the full length of the tarmac, the Ch701 only needing ten meters of  the smooth black surface to get its wheels in the air, nonetheless, with the risk of crosswinds, the nose was kept down for about fifty meters, until we were certain that a smooth and rapid climbout could be initiated.  Patricia eased the stick back about half an inch, and 9G-ZAF, the plane she had lovingly built shot skywards like a love-sick angel.

9G-ZAC, also built by Patricia and the WAASPS girls, followed closely.  Martin, who has previously flown across Europe in Yak aircraft, positioned at the 7 O’clock position, allowing Patricia to weave the route past the water mountain dwarfing the aircraft to our right.

Turbulence was strong, as to be expected, but the CH701, chosen for its range and manouvreability, was easily able to counter the rocking motions that the weather was trying to force upon the machines.

Takoradi was rapidly disappearing under torrents of rain.  Without a thorough knowledge of the local weather patterns, such a departure would have been foolhardy, but Captain Yaw has flown extensive ‘coconut surveillance’ operations in the area, and, coupled with the satellite image monitored immediately prior to departure, had a balance approach to the risks involved.  Furthermore, Patricia had already flown 9G-ZAC out of Takoradi about year ago, working around storm cells, even going out over the sea to remain in calm air, on a flight back to Kpong.  Experience, especially of how tropical weather behaves, is essential before embarking on an adventure such as ours.  All risks must be balanced and safety must be kept paramount in the mind as well as in the actions.

Fifteen minutes later we enjoyed the clear air and fresh views as we set our cap on Mim.  The route to Mim is not one that is often flown, probably less than once per year, and so we had little or no radio chatter after leaving the ‘Oil capital’ of Ghana behind us.

We flew over masses of thick forest as far as the eye could see, saw gold mines, small scale, often illegal, mines, flooded rivers, cashew plantation (at Mim) and more as we enjoyed the air at 2000feet for the majority of the leg.

We did our low pass at Mim and landed in Sunyani at 15:00… tired, thirsty and hungry – hungry.  Tired from the adventure, thirsty for more and hungry for tomorrows flight to the North and its very different terrain!

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