By: Mohamed Amin Jibril
Somalilandsun – It all started when Said Abdi Jidheh, a car mechanic in Somaliland, heard about a fire in which several people died. The local authorities didn’t have a helicopter to assist in a rescue. This tragedy inspired Jidheh to build one himself – from scratch.
Seven years after starting on his ambitious project, and despite challenges he’s faced along the way, Jidheh is still as motivated as ever. One of our Observers, Mohamed Admin Jibril, went to meet him in his little warehouse space in Hargeisa, Somaliland’s main city.
The Republic of Somaliland is an autonomous region located in northwest Somalia. Its residents declared independence in 1991, but they have not been officially recognised by any country or international organisation.
Somaliland’s firefighters currently own a few trucks, but no aircraft.
Said Abdi Jidheh
“I believe that one day, we will be able to fly in Somaliland’s skies”
I was about 10 years old when I first started dreaming of becoming a pilot. However, I had no idea how to achieve such a dream. As an adult, my first priority was securing a stable job. I first worked at a fuel depot before becoming a mechanic in 2003. I learned how to build a car and to repair electrical and mechanical systems.
One day in 2006, I read a newspaper article about a how eight children and their mother died after their home caught on fire. After reading about this incident, I started thinking about how to rescue people during such tragedies. I thought about the delays caused by poor road infrastructure when trying to reach the scene of such fires. That’s when my dream came back to me. I decided to build a helicopter with which to rescue fire victims.
“I built the helicopter to look like the ones I had seen in movies”
Of course, this is not an easy project to undertake in Somaliland. When I told my co-workers that I was thinking of building a helicopter, they thought I had gone mad. I spent my free time thinking about how I would go about making it. In October 2006, I started putting the first pieces of the helicopter together, at home, without any help.
Two months later, I was sacked from the garage where I worked. Apparently, they thought I was crazy for spending my nights working on this. Because I had no savings, making my dream a reality seemed more difficult than ever, but I continued with the project regardless. Two months later, the garage called me back, and I was able to resume work.
Initially, I had no idea how to structure the helicopter. I started with the base, which was more or less like that of a bus, then moved on to the front, which I made to look like those I had seen in movies. Later, I installed the navigation tower and built two windows. I then added two tyres for landing and a long tail for balance.
“I later got help from people who at first thought I was mad”
Little by little, I got the support of other people, including those who had earlier thought I was mad. The notable help of my colleague Abdi Idan Farah has been key to the construction of the helicopter, since he set up the aircraft’s entire electrical system.
He and I decided to make the helicopter 7.4 metres long, 4.5 metres high and make each wing 9.4 metres long. In total, we’ve spent 4,000 dollars of our savings on the helicopter. We spend much of our free time in the little warehouse next to my home.
Along the way, I’ve met some people experienced in air navigation, including Somali aviation officials, who gave me some valuable advice. Muse Abdillahi Jama, a former Somali pilot, lent me a book that helped me put together several pieces of the helicopter..
“A former aviation minister gave us 400 dollars and promised us that the government would support our project. But we’ve heard nothing since”
In October 2009, I also met Somaliland’s former aviation minister, who gave us 400 dollars and promised us that the government would support our project. But the new aviation minister has never contacted us.
Although we haven’t been about to test our helicopter yet, I believe that one day we will be able to navigate Somaliland’s skies. We believe we still need about 17,000 dollars for equipment, testing and other expenses. If we can get this amount, we could soon be airborne with Somaliland’s first firefighting helicopter.