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Tuesday, 5 November, 2002, 15:29 GMT
Take-off for Uganda's own helicopter
Ugandan made helicopter
The boys built the machine after visiting Entebbe airport

One particular exhibit has been drawing by far the most attention at an East African trade exhibition in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.

Large crowds have been gathering around a red and white object, three metres long and less than two metres high made of scrap metal.

It is Uganda's first home-built helicopter - designed by boys from the Katwe Youth Development Project.

One of them, Joseph Kantinti Mbazira, told me how they came up with the idea after watching helicopters flying overhead.

"We wanted to do this for ourselves so we went to Entebbe [airport] to see how the helicopters worked," he said.

Joseph told me that, with its engine adapted from a water pump, the helicopter can fly about four feet off the ground or three feet off the ground if it is carrying a pilot.

But he is keen to get more help to develop it.

Neck height

After a great deal of discussion at the exhibition, there was a call for a collection of money to put some petrol into the helicopter.

Men in helmets held the helicopter down
Men in helmets held the helicopter down
Rather dangerously, the rotor blades began whirring at roughly about my neck height.

With the blades rotating, the crowd tried to persuade the pilot to get the helicopter off the ground.

Fearing a decapitation and remembering that Uganda's only independent newspaper was temporarily shut down recently for reporting that a helicopter had been shot down, I made a hasty retreat.

In fact, due to safety reasons the organizers of the trade fair banned the helicopter from taking off so two people wearing crash helmets held the helicopter down.

But however crudely made it may be, the crowd seemed pleased.

This was after all made in Uganda. It was our chopper.

Pride

"At least our boys can do something developmental," said one Uganda man.


I commend them and urge them to continue with their efforts

Ugandan onlooker
Another said it made him feel proud and he would like the government to invest money in the project.

And when I asked one impressed onlooker if he would fly in the machine he said: "Yes of course".

"It's impressive. This is fit for the Third World. I commend them and urge them to continue with their efforts."

Now I just hope the team get help to improve the machine.

Although too many helicopters flying four feet off the ground could make Kampala a very dangerous place.

See also:

17 Oct 02 | Africa
11 Oct 02 | Africa
18 Oct 02 | Africa
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