Pilots rally to lift a Kenyan man with a dream

When last we heard of Gabriel Nderitu, whom we first heard about here, the man from Kenya with a dream to fly had tried to coax his homebuilt airplane into the sky for a 14th time. And for a 14th time, he got a close up look at terra firma.

That was last summer and he’s been earthbound since. He’s a magnificent man minus a flying machine.

It’s not for lack of passion, nor lack of trying. Like many things in Kenya, it’s for lack of resources.

“Would somebody please help this man… before he hurts himself?” a Wisconsin pilot posted last summer on an aviation bulletin board.

And people did, a testament to the beauty of the Internet, and the willingness of people to be people.

As it happened, another member of the forum, run by Oshkosh’s Experimental Aircraft Association, is Matthew Long, who also lives in Kenya but had never met Nderitu. He offered to organize a drive to collect as much knowledge about homebuilt aircraft (people around here seem to know a thing or two about the subject) and somehow get it into Nderitu’s hands.

“With a per-capita income of about $1,400 in Kenya vs. about $55,000 in the USA, most people in Kenya are accessing the internet via cheap phones and pay-by-the-MB cellular plans so they are just able to skim the surface, not really dive in. So for Gabriel and most of the rest of the world, the information access that we take for granted just isn’t there,” Long said.

It’s taken almost six months of effort, but pilots donated books about aerodynamics and airplane construction to Nderitu, who, while an educated man (he’s in the information technology field), didn’t actually understand enough about why airplanes fly.

One Twin Cities pilot sent almost a dozen books on gliders and instructions on building planes to Long. The EAA donated the books “Practical Lightplane Design and Construction for the Amateur”, EAA Gas Welding, and EAA Sheet Metal Building Basics books. Some airplane-themed T-shirts and hats were included; inspiration has to look the part.

All that was left was for Long, who lives in Nairobi, to find Nderitu, who doesn’t. He lives in Nyeri, in the highlands of Kenya.

Last Saturday, however, Nderitu and Long connected.

Photo: Matthew Long


I am pleased to say that, while it took some time for many reasons, I was finally able to connect with Gabriel Nderitu yesterday and pass on to him the Fly Baby plans and patch, EAA hat and t-shirt, many books and welding DVD that everyone had sent. Thanks to Kim, Ron, Pete and Charlie (for EAA) for the generous donations.

Gabriel has gotten his self-designed aircraft down to 130 kg (287 lb) empty without the engine, so it’s still too heavy to fly with the engine he now has, which is a Hirth F33. He has a wooden prop cut down to size for him by Tennessee Props as well as an Ultraprop, so he is happy with his powerplant but is considering redesigning his plane for partial fabric covering to shed weight.

Talking with Gabriel I found an aviation enthusiast with quite a bit of knowledge but also handicapped by a lack of resources and others to bounce around ideas with. I will keep in touch with him and encourage him to join this and other groups that might be able to help.

Cheers from Nairobi!


Maybe Gabriel will achieve his dream of flight someday, maybe not. Many of his neighbors watch his attempts and laugh at his folly. But he now has the knowledge to build a plane at his fingertips, courtesy of two brothers from Dayton who heard similar laughter, and present-day pilots who know how to make it stop.