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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Day 2 Sunyani to Tamale

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: Bui Dam, Mole Game Reserve, Wa.

Last night ended with a massive downpour, lightening and thunder to shake the very foundations of your heart, especially if you know that your aircraft is tied down on the apron of Sunyani Airport… getting a thorough soaking.

We woke up to a stormy sky, showers surrounding the area. We loaded the support vehicle and set off to the airport. Both aircraft had spent a comfortable, but wet night, tied down, controls locked. They were both very wet.

Undishertened by the sky’s gloom, we set to wiping down and preparing to fuel-up, having been unable to with the available time after the support vehicle arrived yesterday.

Just as the wings were dried off, collapsible fueling platform positioned and canisters in place – the water descended to dampen thing again. The only undampenable item being our spirits!

Wiped down again, fuelled up, ATC informed, friends greeted and farewelled, we started the engines – very late. It was 10:00 as we taxied to the runway and lifted up into the clearing skies towards the north.

Our estimate for Bui in one hour was precise. The sharp escarpments of the unique geology of the area punctuated the landsacape with obliques towards the Black Volta, gushing its mud laden waters towards the Volta Lake – many, many kilometres away.


The dam has progressed a long way since Patricia did her survey flight for the Authority a few years ago. We all enjoyed the magnificent and amazing views that, in a few years, will never be seen again – once the dam is closed and the third hydro-electric project of Ghana enters service. We profited royally, filling our eyes and our memories with the sheer magnitude of the black volta and its surrounding countryside. Our eyes skimmed the surface of the waters for Hippos, without success.


A pass over the dam site, and we set a course direct to Mole. The landscape changes rapidly, as if we had entered another time and place. The beauty of the countryside, the strategy of the traditional village layouts, the innovation of human survival over thousands of years was different here. As we approached Mole we could see the airstrip, made from compacted latterite, brown and straight, surrounded by trees. The airstrip there had been visited by a pilot on a ground trip last week, and although useable in an emergency, we had confirmed that it needed maintenance before it could be used for ‘regular’ landings. It would not take much to clear the grassy tufts, fill the resultant holes and re-compact the facility. If it had been available we all wanted to land there, but know that the challenges of maintenance in these areas is far more complex than in the more temperate climates. The weather, the rate and strength of growth of the plant life, the movement of animals and people, all change the equation, and make what may seem a simple task elsewhere a dramatic challenge here.

Flying over the main water hole near the guest accommodation in the reserve we headed north. Knowinth that this is the end of the rainy season, the elephants have not yet returned to the proximity of the main water hole. There is plenty of water all over the place. Rumour had it that the elephants would have gone north. Received wisdom told us that we would not see elephants in the thick end-of-rainy-season grasses, shrubs and trees. Content to see the landscape, we pressed on.

Then, we saw elephant tracks – clearly discernable, long, meandering swathes of tall grasses laid down as if the Paris-Dakar ralley had run through the area! For safety, one crew must fly and look out for hazards, whilst the other scours the ground for signs of wildlife. We decide to carry out a quick orbit, just in case, but understanding that we would be very very lucky to see even one elephant with the dense flora below.

Then, Patricia cried out. ‘I have seen them, I have seen them!’ There, below us were tens of elephants – big ones, small ones, some as big as a house. They raised their trunks and moved as a military body, their walk turning to march and then to a sharp cross country run. It was clear now that we had a chance of getting some photos. For once Capt. Yaw allowed Patricia to relinquish the controls as she was so excited at her second ever sighting of an elephant. She had previously spotted one in Digya, and prior to that never seen an elephant in real life. Here it was unlike anything you could possibly imagine.

Ghana is not like East or South Africa, where the vast low lying areas make wildlife spotting easier. No, this is dense vegetation and wildlife can hide from you just six feet away in the foliage.

AC and AF co-ordinated their turns as photos were aquired and spirits raised to new heights.

On to Wa, and to the Harmattan. Sand particles suspended in the air. Carried from the Sahara desert to shroud the sky, diffuse the sun and frustrate pilots!

Landscapes changed again. Sorgum, millet and other crops, laid out in less uniform manners. Plouged by hand or by a bullock plough, this really is place with a different perspective.

On the ground in Wa the dry heat hit us. Both aircraft had noted a slight rise in engine temperatures, an indicator that we were into the semi-arid regions of West Africa.

The welcome by the security team was fantastic. Augustine could not stop smiling, noting our registrations and clearly proud of his daughter of Africa, Patricia, as he and his team looked over the creations that they had only heard about before. Wa is not a well frequented location – but it has the most wonderful runway! Wa must become a regular place to visit, for its welcome and its very different beauty to the other parts of Ghana.
Targets Achieved.

WA to Tamale

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

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

Targets: Bolgatanga, Tamale.

We looked to the sky and saw the dense Harmattan to the north. Considered the time delay from the morning, and the sunset time of 17:46. Reluctanctly we agreed that it was prudent to change the plan. We would route directly to Tamale, and come back next year to visit Bolgatanga by air. In fact, if the Navrongo airstrip is available, we may even go there and land!

As we flew the ninety minute Wa-Tamale leg, our decision was vindicated. The sky to the North was not suitable for VFR (Visual Flight Rules) operations. Furthermore, a storm cloud on the edge of the Harmattan zone created dangerous updrafts, necessitating a weather avoidance turn to the south.

Now, the community layout took on a cluster arrangement of round huts wearing conical thatched roofs. Amazing, beautiful and totally different to anything seen so far on our journey.


We approached the wide and long Tamale strip, and realised that Tamale really an under-apprecaited airport! If you have not been there – you must go!


The welcome and reception committee brought a lump to our throats as we realised the appreciation of the team there.

Ghana Airforce agreed to allow us to park up for the night in their hangar, and as the sun set on day 2, we were happy, our minds in overload, our visual cortexes unable to process the diversity and immensity of the days sights. Our hearts a little sad at missing a target, but we remain confident that tomorrow holds new challenges and we made the right call about Bolgatanga on safety grounds.

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