AFP/Yahoo! News Don't Have a Clue

October 23rd, 2007 5:13 AM
You may have seen one of the 19,000 mentions of the "Home-made helicopters from Northern Nigeria." Once the AFP article hit Yahoo! News, it crossed the blogosphere like wild fire. I highly doubt it is true, and if journalists knew the first thing about flight, they might not have been so easily duped.

For starters, let's look at the measurements provided by the journalist.

For a four-seater it is a big aircraft, measuring twelve metres (39 feet) long, seven metres high by five wide.

Seven meters high? That's 23 feet tall. Does the photograph look like the helicopter is over two stories tall and 39 feet long? But the real problem with the story is with the tail rotor -- or lack thereof. France 24 has several more of the photos of this "helicopter", and in the one where the "pilot" is opening the cardboard flap that covers the engine, you can see that there is no axle to turn the tail rotor. The tail rotor, which keeps a real helicopter from spinning the same speed as the main rotor, is purely aesthetic.

The reporter claims this helicopter has "flown briefly on six occasions" at an "altitude of seven feet", but the reporter fails to corroborate this with any other witnesses. In true journalism fashion, the reporter takes a shot at a government for allegedly not supporting the wild ideas of this dreamer:

Although some government officials got very excited when they saw him conduct a demonstration flight in neighbouring Katsina state, Nigeria's Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has so far shown no interest in his aircraft. "No one from the NCAA has come to see what I've done. We don't reward talent in this country," he lamented.... In a country with Nigeria's abysmal air safety record officials may be loath to gamble on one student's home-made helicopter.

Who are the "government officials" who "got very excited"? What were they excited about? What exactly did the reporter expect the government to "gamble on"?