‘None but ourselves can free our minds...’

2009-08-18 16:46

TO those who think cannabis is the only way Rastas get high, meet Zimbabwe’s Daniel Chingoma, who grew tired of making water pumps and built his own helicopter instead.

With a Lexus V8 engine, side mirrors from a Hilux bakkie and a tobacco thermometer in the cockpit, Chingoma’s helicopter has become a tourists’ honey pot along the Harare Chegutu road.

If you’re too stingy to pay the $2 (R16) entry fee ($5 to take a picture), all you’ll see of the machine are the helicopter blades towering above a solid metal fence.

Inside, it’s all rivets and trailer wheels and aluminium sheeting bought at scrapyards and hardware stores since the project was born in 2003.

“I have engineering passion,” says Chingoma (43), a Rastafarian who did not finish matric and has no pilot’s licence or formal training.

After designing and building hand-operated water pumps to aid Zimbabwe’s chronic water shortages, Chingoma needed a challenge.

“With the current problems in Zimbabwe of water shortages, it actually boosted our business. But I asked myself, how many spanners can I use on a water pump? I’m not a complete engineer! So I had to go into a challenging project,” Chingoma says. “I chose a helicopter.”

He devoured aircraft literature, dropped in at Harare’s Charles Prince Airport and aviation clubs, and even got the nod from the air force to see how their helicopters were put together.

“I had to learn how to do the blades, and what happens when it goes up in the air,” he says.

At the Harare showgrounds in February, Chingoma’s machine, with the national flag painted on the hull and wooden floors inside, was ready to fly. A fan kept passengers cool as they eased into the black vinyl seats.

“We were testing whether it can go up, and it went up five metres, and managed to go around 360 degrees with its nose in the same place,” says Chingoma, who sells a DVD for $10 to prove his feat of flight.

“I have no licence, it’s all natural … just a talent. I went from bush to office. We think it was a great achievement.”

Chingoma’s 10-year-old son, Makomborero, joined his father on the first flight and is very proud.

“I want to be an engineer too, because my father did this amazing thing. He’s the only one in Zimbabwe who has done this.”

Having pumped an estimated $200 000 from his water business into the helicopter project, Chingoma hopes government will one day grant him a permit to fly his machine, which is covered in thick dust even as he refines it each day.

“Now the question is how to make it go forward.”

– Media24 Africa bureau 

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