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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."


Type rated on A330, B747-400, B747, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Captain YAW, alias Jonathan Porter

Friday's Fabulous Flyer!


Captain Yaw changing lives in Ghana


Where did Captain Yaw come from and what does he do?

Born Jonathan Porter, sometime in the 1960’s to a farming stock mother and a Cockney salesman father, grew up dreaming about working in the developing nations on food security issues. At the age of 11 he was the victim of a brutal case of school bullying, leaving him partially paralyzed on left side and both legs. Determined to overcome--- he left the wheelchair behind and eventually regained full motor control.


Scoring high in academics, he dreamed of becoming an Agricultural Botanist, and was making great strides. Sadly, an accident just before completing his pre-university qualifications left him physically compromised with a broken vertebrae and two ruptured disks. Five surgical interventions later, he was told that he would never work or carry more than a kilo or two. His belief that the mind controls the body more than the body controls the mind, coupled with a strong faith and belief in miracles, this young man, who was obliged to leave school for financial reasons, took a job in engineering.


A natural feel for mechanical things was quickly discovered, and he eventually became CNC robotics trouble-shooter, working on a variety of projects--- Aerospace, motor racing, HVAC and even parts for the production of Rolex watches. Whether it was the computer side, design, machining, or inspection, his insatiable appetite for all that works together drove him onwards.



In 1988, while working in the UK, he took a trial flight at Sywell Aerodrome, in a Cessna 150, G-AWUN, and it opened a door deep in his heart. Once swung open, that door refused to close. And Jonathan began to suffer from ground sickness--- the condition experienced by spending too long on the ground.


With the economic challenges of the ICT and related operations at the end of the 1980’s in the UK, Jonathan and his family moved to France. Not long after settling into the French Alps area where he worked on small diameter machining systems, multi-axis flexible manufacturing operation and related software development, he was involved in motor accident, skidding out on black ice on the mountains – again leaving him physically compromised and unable to walk or lift things
 
 
French Alps


Furthermore, it was made clear by the medical professionals that he could not, at that time, retain a French Aviation Medical.
 
After long therapy, and more pig-headed stubbornness, he regained working strength. The doctor treating him being a fan of gliding and the LSA class of aircraft, encouraged him to consider ‘sub-ICAO aviation’. In France there are thousands of small birds, flown with a passion, they are called ULM (Ultra-LĂ©ger MotorisĂ© or Ultralight), but that is a very different classification to FAR Part 103, it is rather much closer to the LSA rules their friends from over the pond are familiar with.


As his terrestrial strength grew, the desire to be in the air grew stronger than ever. Being limited on the ground is easily overcome by being free in the air! Ever gaining physical strength, and able to fly the ULM without an aviation medical, he purchased a Weedhopper, landing in fields and flying around the French Alps, Jonathan gained a lot of experience in low-inertia flying machines, mountain flying and how to get out of challenging conditions, not to forget the obligatory engine completely off landings on a regular basis!

Weedhopper

In 1994 some would refer to it as a ‘calling’, others a ‘yearning’ and some ‘coincidence’, but for Jonathan, it was destiny. Jonathan took his family to Ghana in West Africa to work on a contract with USAID relating to data systems. Of course the household belongings and the Weedhopper were sent in the same container. As much as flying in 1988 opened the door to Jonathan's yearning to fly--- going to Africa blew open the side of the building revealing the need and opportunity of Africa, and it stole what remained of his heart. Thus, flying and Africa joined hands driving the beat in this man's chest.

 
 DC8


 
On one particular flight out of Ghana, Jonathan ‘hitched’ a ride in a cargo DC8 ... Ah, the days before 9/11. He spent enough time in the cockpit to realize that flying heavy metal could never provide the same feeling and satisfaction of the lighter aviation scene. As he says ‘why drive a bus when you can drive a racing car?’.


Named ‘Yaw’ meaning Thursday born in local parlance, by the Paramount Chief of the Osuduku area in 1994, and the name sticking ever since, the stubborn pilot insisted on flying more and more, even though he only had a 2-stroke engine up front. 2-strokes consume fuel and are less reliable than our 4-stroke engines, but when you know you can land on a pocket handkerchief, and you have not had an incident, you do not always appreciate that fact.

One day, flying from Accra to Kumasi, the weather deviations consumed too much fuel – and the thirty minutes extra soon became ten. So a precautionary landing in a village, surrounded by tall trees and hostile terrain, not only developed a new set of skills, but it also created a new train of thought.


 

Moving back to the UK in 1997, the Weedhopper was left in the hands of a friend, and Jonathan lectured in college and university course subjects, despite never having undertaken a university course. When he applied for a degree, he got asked to teach on it instead! Experience is of far more use than certificates!

During his teaching time he flew both at Shoreham in Sussex in the PA28 and Cessna family, and with the Tiger Club at Headcorn in Kent, enjoying the Piper Cub, Jodel Mascarat D150, Tiger Moth and other wonderful aircraft. Although flying, the call of Africa was still pulsating in his chest.

In 2002 he returned to Ghana, with the determination to create a flying school and engineering centre of international standards – to be operated by Ghanaians.

Supported by a group of international shareholders, WAASPS was born, but not without a few administrative struggles! Wining friends to a new industry is not always easy, but it can be done with a large dose of determination. So, in November 2005, Kpong Airfield opened its doors, with only 300m of usable runway.




In January 2006, meetings held, discussions ensued, and letters sent to the missions in Ghana about the opportunities available to use aviation to reach the hard to get to places in the country--- without success. They were told that ‘rural aviation is not possible here’.


Then in March 2006, Matthew, the 21 year old son of Jonathan , a keen agricultural enthusiast, was returning from taking soil samples to the city. On the way back, a small bus crossed the white line and hit Matthew head on. The vehicle was destroyed and the passers by put Matthew with the other ‘dead’ in the back of a pickup truck to send to the mortuary.


 
 
At the hospital, as they were about to send the broken and bleeding limp form to be laid out, a nurse heard shallow breathing. About the same time Jonathan arrived at the hospital. Matthew received massive injuries, bone was protruding from his leg, feet wrapped around into balls of flesh and his left fore-arm cleanly broken, creating an apparent second elbow. The hospital had no splints, was running out of stitches and other supplies. The doctor looked at Jonathan and asked ‘ What should I do – I have never seen somebody with so many injuries still alive.’

Calling on the support of an Air Force friend, they were directed to go to the city, but by road. At the hospital in Accra, Matthew was stabilised and then flown to the UK where 4 surgeons worked for over 8 hours to put him back together. His body weak, but his mind strong-- just like his Dad.

From that hospital bed in 2006, Matthew decided that it was not possible to wait for the Health Authorities, missions and others to make the first move on Aviation Medical Solutions, and so he created the charity Medicine on the Move from a hospital bed in the UK. Click here for UK News
 Despite the setback, and anguish, it was clear that progress had to be made if Humanitarian Aviation was to succeed, at least from the light aviation, affordable aviation solutions perspectives.

Matthew spent 6 months in hospital and insisted on returning to Ghana ahead of the doctor’s advice. His mind set on ‘doing something to change minds and perspectives’.
 


They knew that sponsorship of young people has always been the only answer to long term solutions in every industry. Thus potential laden young men were sought out and given opportunities. Sadly, as soon as they gained a little knowledge they would wander off, seek their fortune elsewhere, become frustrated at the length of time it takes to learn aviation or be caught indulging in practices dangerous to aviation.

Employing exclusively young men at the time, it was a surprise when a young lady walked out of the bush in mid-2007, and asked for a job. At that time, we had no work other than clearing bush-land, and in an attempt to put her off the idea, she was given a machete and mattock and told to clear stumps.




Patricia with Emmanual Bedzrah

Patricia took to the task like a beaver, practically chewing the trees out of the ground. She arrived early to work, walking several miles from the mud and thatch home, without power and where water was fetched from a standpipe, stayed late when needed and turned up on days she was not working to watch the planes. For this young lady the concept of learning to fly, becoming a pilot and become an engineer was an impossible, 'unallowable' dream. It was never envisioned that she would be a long term part of the operations because ‘the focus was on the wrong set of people’, explains Jonathan.
 
One day she was clearing shrub-land around the workshop when the engineering assistant was caught stealing, and so, as he was sent to the police station, Patricia was called to hold a wing. She quickly took to the task in hand, and learned by watching and asking questions. In the next month she asked more questions than all of the previous staff combined. Thus she learned, and then on a ferry flight was given control for the first time. ‘She took to flying like a natural’ and did not look back. 
 


Flying 97 women and Girls 2010


Her efforts and determination changed the face of the whole operation. Young women were now given opportunities, and they did better, tried harder and were demonstrably better investments of time, energy and finances. Even those who did not last the course, still provided a better return on investment, leaving only to return to school to further their studies. Thus the focus changed for WAASPS and Medicine on the Move, the workshop personnel focus shifted for the better.


Of course, mistakes are part of learning, and so it was decided early in 2010 to start a small school by the end of 2010, taking in just four girls per year, training them in aircraft building and maintenance, flight training, airfield operations, robotics engineering (for part production), and computers. A big commitment from a small company, powered by the pounding in the chest created by aviation and Africa combined – a very powerful force indeed!

Patricia Teaching

In 2004, people laughed at the idea of building planes in Ghana – or even setting up a private airfield. In 2009 they laughed at the idea of a school to train girls. But both have occurred, and it is now considered that ‘laughter at a project is a good omen’…


In fact, the team has already built seven aircraft, including two CH701’s, two X-Air Falcons, one crop-sprayer, one amphibian trainer and an X-Air Falcon, which is currently being re-clothed and upgraded to the latest specifications. In the workshop the four seat CH801 nears completion, awaiting avionics, stretcher bay and finishing touches. Their workshops are well laid out and their ambition larger than that of organisations many times their size.


Jonathan, known more commonly as Captain Yaw, leads the crew of girls as they build the planes, run the flying school which is patronised by business men and women from the city and has flown over 40 different nationalities over the last five years. Matthew, who despite the on-going pain from his injuries, leads the male team on airfield maintenance, construction, etc. Together the Father and Son Team, assisted – or perhaps led – by Patricia, operate the busiest private airfield in West Africa--- the only Humanitarian Aviation Logistics operation using light aircraft and the building of a specialist of school that helps young ladies with potential to reach new heights.
 


This team has lots of energy, enthusiasm and an ability to overcome the odds, and so it is not surprising that Medicine on the Move is about to move into a very exciting phase.

Through a competent team of volunteers and support from around the world, MoM is so very close to completing that Zenith CH801 4 seat air ambulance, that will then go on to be mounted on Amphibious floats. This 801 is only the first in an envisaged fleet that will take health education and support to an estimated population of over one million people, scattered in thousands of villages and homesteads around the Volta Lake in years to come… The main aim to reduce and eliminate Bilharzia, the second most socio-economically devastating parasitic disease after malaria.


Of course, if that makes you laugh and say that it can’t be done, considered that a good sign.


Jonathan, Matthew and Patricia have overcome massive odds – and if the odds are stacked up against somebody who can succeed, this is the team to back!

If that makes you want to do something to help them, then please contact Captain Yaw at capt.yaw@waasps.com and visit the website at http://medicineonthemove.org/ .

Captain Yaw

Jonathan, thank you for sharing your story with us. A true man with a mission for making the world a better place. I've had the opportunity to visit Ghana, and cannot wait to return to meet my new friends. I'm going to speak to the girls at their school--- what could be better than that? Okay, I might make Captain Yaw take me for a flight. :)

Please visit their website. http://medicineonthemove.org/
Captain Yaw is changing lives one flight at a time!


Enjoy the Journey!

~ Karlene

16 comments:

  1. Fantastic article. But then I'm biased.

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  2. Thank you Stol Jockey... You have a right to be biased. But he is a great man!

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  3. I think that Patricia should take you for a flight! More Girl Power!!!

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  4. Jonathan was one of the first persons to contact me after I launched the Centennial of Women Pilots campaign in early 2010. He said, "We are going to introduce 100 girls and women to flying on March 8 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first woman pilot license."

    And they did! It took 4 pilots flying ultralights all day long but that did not phase them out. Their one-day effort was unmatched by anyone else in the world until Renton introduced 173 girls and women in one day.

    The introduction of girls and women to flying in March is now an annual event in Kpong Field!

    I can't wait to meet them in person and give them their 'Most Female-Pilot-Friendly Airport in Ghana and 2nd Runner-up Worldwide' trophy this summer at Airventure.

    Let their example be an inspiration to the nay-sayers.

    Vision and hard work can never be defeated.

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  5. Thanks for the post.
    It was really helpful to solve my confusion.

    Occupational Medicine

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  6. good work . i will visit the air field oneday cos is my dream to be a pilot

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  7. Great article on a great man who has personally overcome obstacles and seeks to improve the lot of others. However, the first picture made me cringe ("White Savior and smiling black faces") and the statement "young lady walked out of the bush" has undertones that do detract somewhat from the wonderful work that this man is doing.

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment. I don't think anything can detract from the work he's doing. And... he wrote this to share his story as it happened. I hope that one day we can all be color blind. I never noticed the white savior and the black faces. I noticed a helping man and smiling children.

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  8. Thanks for taking the time to respond to my comment. I do not wish to make too much of an issue on the subject I wrote about (lest it detracts from the main thrust of the article). I will therefore not comment any further.

    First of all though, thanks for having the courage to publish my comment - and not merely filtering it out as "noise", as someone else would have. I do take issue however, with your comment about being "color blind" (the semantic equivalent of a man being "gender blind") - the unfortunate fact of the matter is that although you may have the luxury of being "color blind" (i.e. not seeing race), that is a false reality that denies and disregards the daily micro aggressions (or worse) of non-white people across the globe (either living in the West, or interacting with Western media). The West, has a consistently negative narrative about Africa; as a journalist, you may already be aware of this. The story of the noble white savior going to the "jungle" to save the poor, guileless natives (complete with said "Savior", posing with natives flashing toothy grins) is a well worn (and quite frankly, tired) trope. Similarly, talk of people emerging from the bush (although possibly factually correct), conjures stereotypical images (created in the past by the West), of "unsophisticated" people living in trees etc. You may want to read up on some history to understand why some people may be "sensitive" (or simply suspicious) about narratives about Africa (or other "exotic lands") written by a Westerner.

    Although you (or John for that matter - if he wrote the article as you suggest) may not be consciously aware of undercurrents in your vocabulary (and I am not for one moment accusing either of you of being malicious); the purpose of my comment was to draw to your attention, the fact that you may unconsciously be using tropes that some of your global audience may find unsettling - for the aforementioned reasons.

    To recap though, the article is a fantastic one, and the work being done by John and his team is truly amazing.

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    1. Dear Anonymous... I often don't publish comments like this where the person won't put their name to it.

      Obviously have a different view. From my perspective did not see him, or that photo, as anything other than a man with children doing good. Happy kids learning and someone providing opportunity.

      They could have been white children and wealthy...with a black man sitting there. It would not have mattered. Oh wait... I've seen that photo often in the US when sports stars reach out to children.

      When people take time for children...to help with anything...that's what counts. Socioeconomic status or race aside... it's about the children.

      I did not see them, or think of them as poor and guileless either. Or him as a savior.

      This doesn't make me right, or you wrong. We have obviously a different point of view and see what is referenced in our mind, or what we want to see, and placing our interpretations on the same thing... with a different thought.

      This is the reason that 5 witnesses to a crime can all see the situation and saw completely different things.

      We have two points of view. That's fine. Thank you for the comment about this being a nice article!

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  9. thank you all, we have a lot to learn from each other but the tears I shed reading about the very courageous John, Mathew Patricia......I am humbled

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  10. great read. hoping to be like patricia too and working towards it.

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    1. Tina, I have confidence you are going to be a huge success and achieve all your dreams!!! Just keep the hope alive and the commitment strong.

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