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Issue 5: Technological Issues - Nigeria (page 2)

A day in the life of a satcom engineer in Nigeria

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After the robed one had found another deep pocket, and the brother's permission immediately was obtained (I think that the man must have been schizoid because I didn't see any brother appear) the slings were unfurled and we began the lift.

But Oh Dear again, only two slings were found! There really were no others - it was now 2pm and the heat was tremendous. I dismissed some of the workers to get their rest and return later with the others to follow when the first lot returned.

There were doubtful faces, would this work - yes - I was prepared to risk lifting the reflector with just two slings and several sturdy people on ropes to center the reflector.

A 4.5M antenna reflector is not very heavy, I reasoned, and the slings, if they held and the two lifting points if they also held, would at least achieve the job.

But forces of chaos usually rule, and after rope was purchased at a local shanty and people were found to hold the ends, (of course no one carried any rope) the crane driver delicately started winding up. On the antenna all the hold down bolts had been removed and the tension came on the reflector. With the touch of great gentleness on the "up" lever the entire reflector leapt off its mounting and whizzed four feet into the air!

Hmmm - curses, foiled again! - Low tech hydraulic controls lifting a hi tech product equals unpredictable results!

As a result of the unpredictable action of the crane and the resulting wondrous confusion of shouting between the rope holders, the reflector now began a wide swing towards a brick wall, turning as it did so, neatly on its side.

The sub-reflector and feed horn had been removed before the lift, but the accuracy of the antenna should be within + and - 3mm over the entire parabolic shape (at C band) to function within designers limits.

A collision with a wall could have distorted the antenna frame and placed it outside the specifications. The collision was averted by the crane driver's quick thinking. With a loud, unhealthy metallic grating noise he swerved the crane (with the same jerky motion) in the horizontal plane.

The antenna lurched 15 feet in the opposite direction, away from the wall. The crane driver raised the jib at the same time so that the lower lip of the antenna just missed the pedestal.

I wondered how the two lifting plates on the antenna could survive the stresses, and when examined afterwards they had taken the brunt of the jerking and bent nicely almost thirty degrees.

The reflector was now swinging wildly but safely in space over the rooftop. The shouting reached fever pitch as the rope men tried to stabilise it - but finally when the oscillations were damped, the lowering proceeded without further hitch.

But another problem was imminent - time - it was now getting late and although the sun still beat hot, I could see the gleam of more money in the eyes of everyone who could sense that it might be necessary to continue the next day (tomorrow is a favorite phrase here and covers a variety of ills).

The truck waiting outside the gate that was to take the dismantled antenna to the safe storage place was called into the courtyard. A huddle convened - what to do? It was decided to transport the antenna in one piece - if it would fit into the truck, I was told.

The truck was a sad, old affair - bigger than a pick-up truck but smaller than a full sized lorry. Around its edges were steel pipe grids used for tying loads inside. One could see that this truck, had carried many large loads and was about at the end of its days - but at least you could see the truck through the clouds of exhaust smoke - so the engine might run a few more hours.

More chatter followed and the crane started to lift. Much hand waving and shouting followed. I thought, if they could place the antenna hub on a support block 2.3 metres off the truck floor, with suitable wedges, the antenna could be transported on its side. Not so.

The antenna was lowered hub

downwards, reflector facing the sky, onto the flimsy pipe side support rails of the truck - with about one metre hanging over each side!

As they took the load the pipe rails bent…but did not break - they distorted outwards creating a nice cradle bearing the support arms of the reflector.

Oh no, I thought, its all going to collapse, but the truck owner must have carried such outsize loads before. He smiled his confidence. Now, I thought, they will surely tie that load in place with much rope. Also not so…to hold the weight of the reflector into the back of truck two or three assistants of the truck owner climbed bare foot onto the reflector and sat down grinning happily!

Everyone knows that the weight of the load will hold it is place - there is no such thing as inertia or a load trying to continue to move in the direction that it was traveling if the direction of motive force is changed!

By now the Time Bank was getting nearly empty, so with no more sage advice from me, we set off to the safe haven. The streets seemed to be filled more than usual with peak hour commuters, but were there any unusual stares at the unusual load being carried in the back of the truck as well as the two grinning heads peeping out from within?

Not at all! If we had been carrying the Statue of Liberty feet first on a roof of a car, people couldn't have cared less!

Here was one benefit of a low tech society - anything carried in a truck is OK as long as it fits. The fact that the antenna was hanging over the road and threatening to decapitate street lighting fittings and traffic lights didn't matter in the least.

Today was our lucky day - the traffic lights were not working (again) and the traffic policemen waved us happily on our way. More grins solve a host of problems.

The last hurdle was in sight - the gateway to the storage place had a low and narrow arch over the top - but my knowledgeable helpers had planned!

Charging through the traffic behind us came the crane, looking like a modern Roman siege breaking machine coming to ram the castle walls.

Again the slings were fastened - again much shouting and gesticulating, and again the crane whisked the reflector briskly over the archway and held it dangling while the truck moved forward. As dusk fell, the hi tech antenna reflector without a chip on its gleaming paint was deposited gently on wooden bearers inside the safe area.

At this stage I hastily withdrew from the scene and watched as much arm waving and even a little angry shouting ensued with my Robe Man, as a last, desperate attempt was made by the crane man and the truck man to extract even more money.

It was well I did so, because the entire sum I had set aside had been used… The report was that at least 50% more was asked for. I am not sure how much went to Robe Man, but he earned it, and I had the receipts to prove wise expenditure.

A later note - the antenna was carefully dismantled, shipped to another city and re-assembled. The same trusted workers with only the manuals, correct tools and a little expert help re-assembled it, and it met all specification tests as laid out by the organization whose tests are the toughest of them all; Intelsat.

The fact that the antenna survived the ordeal is a monument to the US designers; the "different" engineering methods adopted by this West Coast African nation and to an extent the powers of chance, and the depth of pockets.

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