In 1994 when the Porters first visited Ghana it was clear that the road transportation network would only reach those in major centers for many years to come. At that time the Baptist Mission in Wa was using a Cessna 180 with limited success and many challenges for their transport needs between Wa and Accra – 2 days by road or 4 hours by plane.
The Baptist mission, like so many before finally gave up on the aviation solution – the administrative challenges and the difficulties of operating an aircraft with a Certificate of Airworthiness in these parts. A CofA requires original factory parts and does not allow for bush repairs at all – so you can quickly end up stranded for weeks waiting for a part.
In 2002 it had become clear that the only way a mission aviation solution for flying doctors would succeed would be to establish an aircraft build and maintenance center in Ghana – and to train the local people to build and maintain their own aircraft. Of course, they would also need to learn to fly – so add a flying school to the ‘to do’ list.
After three years of active lobbying, the approval was given to finding WAASPS in early 2005 – the commercial organization that thought the missions would be thrilled at finally being able to operate and maintains aircraft in the region. Sadly, the missions had lost their faith in the airborne solutions and accepted the status quo of ‘it can’t be done’.
Many discussions were had with different groups as the opportunities grew, without success. In late 2005 a young Ghanaian doctor came to see us and was very encouraging about the concept of starting an NGO (charity) of a flying doctor service, but she was not currently based in Ghana. Nonetheless, the encouragement was a big one.
Then, in March 2006 disaster struck.
Matthew Porter, then aged 21, was driving back from Accra when a driver of small bus crossed the white line and hit Matthew’s pick up truck head on. Presumed dead Mathew was unceremoniously moved to Akuse hospital.
Arriving in the car park, Jonathan Porter saw the dead laid out on the ground in front of the men’s ward, a Florence Nightingale affair of pre-war design and construction. Each dead person was covered with a cloth, the tops of their heads showing, and blood still pooling around them on the dusty floor.
A nurse approached and explained that as they were playing Matthew’s body out to go to the morgue they realized that there was some sporadic breathing and quickly moved him to the ward. Out of sutures, splints and other medical supplies, Mathew was left alone, broken, bleeding, his life slipping away.
Over the next 48 hours, he was repatriated to the UK. The ‘37’ military hospital in Accra carried out stabilization surgery and then Jonathan, acting as a medical assistant on the flight out, injecting him along the way.
Four surgeons worked on Matthew in the UK for over eight hours. In the days that followed Matthew stated from his bedside that we could not wait for the missions and others to start a Flying Doctor service – we must. So, he launched the Medicine on the Move concept from his sick bed. The young doctor who had visited in Ghana a few months earlier came to the hospital and gave encouragement.
Medicine on the Move was born – but was still a long way from its first flight.
About Our Aircraft
Having established the need for an air ambulance service we now needed to find an aircraft that would fit our needs in the environment in which we live.
There are many aircraft on the market that could be used in developing nations, but there are particular constraints that are essential to take into account in the developing nations. One of those is fuel. The best aircraft engine for fuel acceptance is the Rotax 912 UL – 80Hp. We joke that you could urinate in the tanks and the engine keep on flying. We have had to feed the 912 some rough fuels – the engine just runs. Of course, we try to feed it clean 95 octanes (91AKI), but at times it is forced to drink the local 89 Octane (87AKI) – at times cocktail led to make it go further. Now that you have the engine of choice you need an airframe.
For bush operations in the tropics, it is best to operate a tricycle, braced high-wing, tractor, STOL aircraft. That limits the field.
The CH701 is the most copied aircraft in that category around. It wins the game for a number of reasons.
- 1. The 701 can be plans built – meaning we can make with factory ‘sanction’ all of the parts in a country should we need to.
- 2. T6 is an excellent corrosion resistant material for tropical applications.
- 3. Factory support is second to none – and they stand by their product like no other.
- 4. They are in use around the world, making CAA acceptance easier.
- 5. They fly like a dream and are robust, of simple construction and are easy to understand for first time builders – like the girls we train here.
The CH801 is the ‘Mother’ of the 701 and has incredible payload flexibility and power plant options. We chose the XP360 because it can run on low octane fuels – and should soon be available again!
The Zenith aircraft are proven rugged designs, purchased inexpensively and built using the most basic of tools. The CH 701 and CH 801 are renowned for their short take-off and landing (STOL) performance, rugged all-metal design, ease of construction, and basic field maintenance. They were designed from the ground up for off airport operations.
As we establish a network of community-maintained airstrips, an aircraft capable of taking off and landing on a short rough strip is critical. A CH 701, fully loaded with a flying doctor and 100 kg of provisions, is capable of becoming airborne on as little as 120 feet of unprepared grass. Known throughout the world as the “Sky Jeep”, this rugged little aircraft will serve a critical role in our educational and support missions. We can easily cover distances in an hour that would require more than a day’s ground travel, allowing us to extend our service area to villages previously unreachable.
A CH 801 can easily become airborne in 300 feet, carrying 4 passengers or up to a 400 kg payload. Designed with the air ambulance role in mind, the passenger seats can be removed and a stretcher can be loaded into the aircraft in less than a minute. We hope to have a fully operational CH 801 in service in 2010. With the CH 801, we will be able to offer service to rural villages far exceeding anything currently in existence.
The build, operation, and maintenance of these aircraft are supported by WAASPS and United Aviation Services, overseen by Ghana Civil Aviation Authority.
We currently operate primarily in Ghana, but will soon expand to Togo, Burkina Faso, and Benin. We anticipate our concept of rural health care delivery will be embraced across West Africa and the African continent. Our Medicine on the Move field operations is currently based in Okwenya in the eastern region of Ghana, approximately 80 km from Accra’s international airport. In addition to basic accommodations and an administrative center on our 52-acre property, we have a 200 square meter workshop, a hangar, a small airstrip, and a training area for up to 90 delegates.