Sky-shout­ing for the Pres­i­dent

When we be­gan ae­rial broad­cast­ing, our busi­ness took off in a big way

Pilot - - African Skies - By: Tim Cooper

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

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