As this column continued to search within Malawi for flashes of brilliance, it landed—courtesy of Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS)—on one Felix Kambwiri from Madisi, Dowa. Despite not having attained secondary level education, Kambwiri has defied all the odds and has embarked on a highly ambitious project to build a helicopter.
Search Within dispatched an envoy to Madisi on February 13 2016 to search for Kambwiri. When the special envoy found him, he called and asked me to call back so that I could speak to the manufacturer, which I did without any hesitation.
The project started in October, last year, according to Kambwiri, who is a welder. He, however, did not seriously apply himself to the project until last month. As at the time of the interview, the helicopter hood had been nearly finalised, but the wind shield was yet to be fitted. All the pieces were welded into position by himself.
Asked if he was using a motor vehicle engine for the helicopter, Kambwiri, who boasted about his being m’Chewa weniweni (of unadulterated Chewa extraction), told this column that he was using a Sun LG motor cycle engine. He explained that his choice for this engine was influenced by its ability to run without any need to be water cooled. The helicopter is designed to carry one person, the pilot.
The people that I have talked to about this Dowa manufacturer and his project have, almost without exception, asked me the question: “Will the helicopter fly?” I put the same question to Kambwiri, who responded by saying that he had no any iota of a doubt that it would take to the air. He pledged to invite me to the test flight. I will go, although the test flight may predate the publication of this article.
My envoy told me that Kambwiri put up a demonstration for him by running the engine, in the process letting the rotor blades, already fitted, go round. As this happened, my envoy continued, the helicopter almost lifted off the ground and the onlookers that had gathered around the scene had to take cover. Currently, the helicopter is in a workshop and Kambwiri says he restrains it from taking off.
Inventions have the tendency not to work the first time round. It is possible, indeed conceivable, that Kambwiri’s helicopter will not fly, or will not fly satisfactorily, at the first attempt. This should not discourage anybody, least of all Kambwiri himself. Orville and Wilbur Wright failed many times before their flying machine eventually achieved satisfactory flight. Each failure gave them the opportunity to refine some aspects of the machine. Finally, in 1903, the machine was able to cover 120 feet in 12 seconds, flying at an altitude of 20 feet. This was the first successful flight of a piloted, manmade machine in history.
Nigerian Aghogho Ajiyen, who builds mini aircraft, did not succeed when he first attempted to fly his craft in 1999. But he kept trying and now he flies them like a real expert, which he is. Ethiopian Asmelath Zeferu has been building his aircraft for the past 15 years. Last year, he was all set for a test flight, but when he started to run the engine, the propeller blades disintegrated. He did not give up; he is refining his aircraft and hopes that it will fly this year.
Kambwiri should be prepared for possible frustrations. My belief is that the helicopter will eventually fly but, more likely than not, some adjustments may have to be effected before this is achieved. Each frustration will be a stepping stone to a better and more refined helicopter.
The 45-year-old Kambwiri told this column that he went up to Standard Eight at Aimala Ndiwo Primary School at his home, Namwiri, Dowa. In response to the question whether he had developed the habit of reading around the subject of aviation, he said although he had the desire to do so, he did not find any relevant books. I would urge any individual or organisation who can donate books or give technical advice to Kambwiri to assist him in any way possible. He may initially face challenges reading books because of his low level of education, but because he has the passion, he will almost certainly religiously apply himself to them to perfect his art. n
With Joshua Chienda Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org