Sky-shouting for the President
When we began aerial broadcasting, our business took off in a big way
Irealised that we had a problem when the first call came in. “Tim, we want you to come to Mbarara. The First Lady is holding a rally. It is very important. It is tomorrow.”
Then the next call, “Tim, we want you to come and fly the yellow plane at Rukungiri. The Foreign Minister is speaking tomorrow.” Then another call, “Cooper, the Prime Minister wants you to play Another Rap in Mubende. He is campaigning there tomorrow.” We had just gone operational with a novel form of aerial advertising and its success was creating havoc with our scheduling.
Epiphany had struck when I was idly flicking through one of our two Fuji FA 200’s pilot operating handbooks. I had reached the end of the serious bits and was browsing my way into the supplements at the end of the tome. When I read the section about mounting a loudspeaker in the luggage bay, I immediately knew we had a winner. I have no idea why Fuji Heavy Industries needed to specify such a thing, but there it was in black and white: remove luggage door, install loudspeaker, and away you go. Perhaps the Fujis were to be used to broadcast tsunami warnings. Who knows?
The President was about to contest another election. It’s Africa, so he was going to win− the only question was by what margin. A younger member of his campaign team had set a presidential speech to rap music and all the radio stations were playing Another Rap. An improbable hit, it was, dare I say it, a catchy number.
Our telecom client, MTN had just told us that after three years they weren’t renewing our contract; it had been a great success but they had done all they could with aerial advertising. Although our business had grown considerably I wanted to continue
with aerial advertising. The money was worthwhile and the flying could be great fun−and that helps to stop pilots getting bored and wanting to move on.
I pondered a bit. What, I thought, if we were able to whizz around at low level, belching smoke, with a speaker pointing out of the aircraft playing
Another Rap. I fired up my computer and did some Googling. Psyops−that’s what I was proposing; Psychological Warfare Operations. I was delighted to find out that during the Gulf War an American Blackhawk helicopter, equipped with a loudspeaker and with a crew from the 9th PSYOP Battalion, succeeded in taking the surrender of an Iraqi general and his 1,405 men who gave up without a drop of blood being shed! Well then, I thought, adding an extra ten percent to the President’s voter tally should be a breeze. It helped that the ruling party’s colours were bright yellow. The same colour as MTN’S. We wouldn’t have to redecorate the aeroplane.
Our Chairman was a keen supporter of the President. Yes, he confirmed, he would talk to the campaign team and he was sure that they would charter our services for the election campaign. “Sky-shouting, Tim, is that what it is called?” “Yes, Chairman,” I said, extemporising, “that’s what everyone calls it.”
A small but very heavy, and very expensive loudspeaker system arrived from the States a week later. Proudly made in the USA, the speaker was designed to be used on police helicopters. Small and loud, the website said. A bit like Madam, I muttered to myself. We rigged it up on a table outside the hangar to see how loud it would be. It was indeed very, very loud. About three kilometres loud.
Next we mounted the system in the yellow Fuji. I followed the instructions in the POH: luggage door removed, speaker secured, and tethered with a wire cable for good measure, just in case. A large deep cycle battery was wedged into the rear passenger footwell on the starboard side and off we went.
It worked best at about 750 feet with the aircraft in a thirtyish
The speaker was designed to be used on police helicopters
degree pylon turn around the chosen point of aim on the ground. Since Another Rap was very short and very distinctive, we could also fly flaps down and very slow−and in a straight line− and still be more than audible and comprehensible.
The speaker system also came with a microphone which could be used from the cockpit. I amused myself by being flown along while broadcasting. I particularly enjoyed being flown along the deadside of our airport, and when level with our friends at the Missionary Air Fellowship hangar keying the mic button and saying, in a deep American voice, “Hello MAF. This is the Lord. You are doing a fine job.” I hoped it would encourage them.
The only serious problem we found when testing was that the hole left by removing the luggage door caused a huge amount of drag, yawing the aircraft to port. It could be tolerated−just.
Our company was busy. We had a number of aircraft and crews operating away from base and there was a distinct lack of pilots to help me develop what I think was seen as my eccentric project. There was an American commercial pilot that I knew−a former missionary, now bible school teacher. He would occasionally fly with us or our rivals at the other end of our airfield to maintain currency. I called him up. “Kurt, are you very busy? Wanna go flying−i have this fun new project. And I’ll pay.” He came to our hangar.
We decided we would test the aircraft and speaker system at our Chairman’s upcountry home, way out in the west of Uganda. There was to be a campaign rally. If sky-shouting didn’t work, no one would be any the wiser. If it did work the Chairman would be pleased that he had got the ball rolling. We loaded up with full fuel, full smoke tanks, a spare battery, several jerry cans of extra avgas and smoke oil, and the two of us. The Fuji wallowed into the sky−she never liked being near max gross.
We flew to Bihanga, the nearest airfield to our Chairman’s home. This was the same strip we had helped carve out of some volcanic peaks for the army. The strip was 400 feet higher than our home field’s 3,750 feet and, being away from the moderating influence of Lake Victoria, it was hotter−10°c more. Landing was simple. We removed the jerry cans of avgas and left them with some soldiers for safe-keeping. We removed the extra battery. We micturated. We were lighter than when we had arrived a few minutes earlier, and roaring down the runway I thought we would be alright. Kurt thought so too. I never get in an aeroplane if the pilot looks scared.
We reached the end of the runway−not flying. Well, not really flying; mushing.
Fortunately, the ground fell away from the threshold, which was rather like a ski jump, and continued undulating for several miles with the terrain generally sloping down to the west. But like a mogul field on a ski piste, modest volcanic bumps littered our forward path. The Fuji decided that it was a day for mushing. So we mushed. Sometimes downwards. Sometimes level. She didn’t want to climb. We could turn left and right. That was really good because it meant we didn’t have to hit a hill head on. It was exactly like being trapped on a runaway rollercoaster.
I looked at Kurt. He looked scared. Very scared. It was too late for me to get out of the Fuji. After perhaps five miles of mogul field skiing we began to fly. We also started breathing again. The drag created by the open baggage bay had nearly killed us.
We found the Chairman’s house and flew around and around playing Another Rap and making smelly smoke with diesel fuel. We wended our way, village to village, enjoying watching inhabitants decant from their huts to see how their President was singing to them from the sky. Eventually we arrived at the political rally the Chairman had organised. Up and down we flew, and around and around. We were now feeling sick from the diesel fumes. Kurt’s right leg hurt
from pressing the rudder. We were going mad from the endless thirty-second loop of Another Rap.
We flew back to the army base, then home. Over a cold beer we decided that sky-shouting was a one crew operation−weight was really critical with the extra drag−and also that Kurt had had his fill of sky-shouting. The drag question was eventually cured after experimenting with sticky vinyl sheet to cover the entire open luggage door area, leaving just the mouth of the loudspeaker protruding. As if by magic the demon drag simply vanished.
Looking at the aircraft it dawned on me that MTN may not appreciate having their name
The drag created by the open baggage bay nearly killed us
all over an aircraft that was out and about on the campaign trail. The aircraft was registered 5X-MTN. It wouldn’t take much effort to change to 5X-NRM, the name of the political party. This led to the start of another series of skirmishes with the CAA. Although the head of licencing was amenable to the change, I thought I detected a certain amount of reluctance.
Now, the actual politics of Uganda are too Machiavellian to describe here, but the gist is that the main tribe and their allied tribes from the west of the country have been in the driving seat since the mid-eighties, when they took power by force. The popular, formal opposition comes mostly from the tribes in the north and east and central part of the country. So far, so good. The insidious, internecine opposition comes from within the west which is riven by subtribal, clan-based rivalries. In certain quarters the CAA, staffed as it was at the senior levels by westerners, seemed quite ill disposed to the President’s power group. However, the Fuji was duly re-registered.
I read the regulations about flying over open air gatherings. I realised I needed both the approval of the organiser−simple because the organiser was the client−and the CAA. A senior figure at the CAA then made a mistake. He wrote to say that flying a single-engine aircraft over a crowd was dangerous and that the CAA could not sanction flights where the President might be present. They would have to consider the issue. With the election being just a couple of weeks away this delay would of course kill the entire sky-shouting campaign.
A phone call to the CAA found that this consideration could take several weeks, even months. Yes, I was told, it would be unfortunate that the campaign would be over by then, but these things can’t be helped. Yes indeed, they understood that our proposed operation was in the POH, but the CAA would have to verify that what was approved in Japan could work in Uganda. I mentioned that the First Lady, the Foreign Minister, the Prime Minister, and a few others might not be so happy about this, but if that was the CAA’S position then what could I do?
The only thing I could do was light the blue touch paper and stand back. I reported to my Chairman. The CAA has grounded Another Rap, I told him. “We will deal with them, Tim, do not worry,” he replied, ominously. The Chairman told the head of the campaign team.
The walls tumbled down. A call at ten at night, the senior CAA man ranting on the phone. He had just been sacked. Oh dear, I thought, now we really will be Enemy Number One at the CAA. Oh well, spilt milk and all that.
My eccentric project was now the operation that all our pilots wanted to fly. The little yellow plane flew up and down the length of the country annoying everyone with Another Rap.
There was still sporadic opposition from elements within the CAA. Election day was nearly upon us, and Madam was briefed to fly over Kampala and make smoke and noise. The Fuji being light, with minimal fuel and a new, lightweight speaker battery, would be able to glide clear at anything over about 1,200 feet agl. A little higher than we would have liked but
Another Rap could still be heard distinctly, especially if the engine rpm was kept low to reduce exhaust noise.
Being inside Entebbe’s control zone meant that Madam was being closely directed. A text arrived on my phone. It was Madam−airborne. “They won’t let me fly over the city,” she said. “Stand by,” I replied.
Low level, smoke on full, Another Rap on loud, she blasted up and down main street
As I have mentioned, this is Africa so the real power almost everywhere resides in the military. I called my army liaison at Entebbe and explained the situation. “Tower won’t let the aeroplane play Another Rap, and they say that it can’t fly into the prohibited area over State House. Could you get permission from the Control Tower for us to fly over the city centre, please?” I asked the young lieutenant. “They are stupid, those people. It is for the President that we are playing Another Rap. You just wait. I will call you.” He seethed.
Madam explained what happened next. She had climbed up and was patiently orbiting the outskirts of the city when ATC came blasting into her Boses. “You descend immediately and continue the flight,” the voice ordered. So she descended and edged towards the city centre. ATC again, “You must go lower” the disembodied voice barked.
So she did, and at low level, smoke on full, Another Rap on loud, she blasted up and down the main street in the heart of the city. I hate to think of what was happening in the Tower. I see an irate young lieutenant, pistol drawn and cocked, face-toface with a terrified controller. It certainly wasn’t what I had intended but it had the right effect.
The news agencies led their stories of the President’s successful re-election with descriptions of the little yellow plane playing Another Rap. We soon had other clients lined up for sky-shouting, including promoting an initial public offering for the national electricity company.
MTN called up a few weeks later. “You didn’t tell us about sky-shouting,” they whined, sounding hurt. “We want to renew the contract, please.” 5X-NRM, which had been 5X-MTN, now became 5X-III and further dreadful snippets of music were broadcast over poor old Uganda.
The very heavy loudspeaker sat in the open baggage bay
BELOW: Madam (aka Emma) seen more recently at Goodwood
ABOVE: the test flight was almost our last as the Fuji mushed but refused to fly
BELOW: the Fuji belches out diesel fuel smoke during a ground run
Originally ‘-MTN’, the Fuji was re-registered to reflect the initials of the President's party
Sky-shouting worked best as a one crew operation
The smoke-trailing, sky-shouting Fuji certainly caught people's attention