By Prudence Minayo
Maurice Gachamba was the first Kenyan to make and fly an airplane in 1968-9. While he couldn’t grasp stuff in school, he put his wiring knowledge into good use and attracted the attention of the whole nation including the late president Jomo Kenyatta. His other innovations range from weapons, rodent traps and cars.
Here is his story of Maurice Gachamba told by WoK.
Maurice Tito Gachamba dropped out of school in class two after his math teacher canned him for not being able to calculate a sum. He was so annoyed and bitter that he left school never to return.
“I could not grasp anything in class. One day, my Standard Two teacher called me in front of other pupils and started beating me up because I could not understand anything,” he told The Standard.
He was born in Magutu, Nyeri county in 1932.
Making a Plane
Gachamba embarked on building an airplane after being fascinated by it. In the years leading up to the seventies, he met a tourist friend who sparked his interest in airplanes.
To build the fixed wing plane, he made use of an 850cc scooter engine and scrap metal. The plane’s body was made of canvas and took three years to construct.
After years of hardwork, he was ready to fly his aircraft. With the help of a motorcycle, he towed the plane to Nyaribo airstrip where he proceeded to cruise until it was ready to take to the skies.
His goal was to fly over the town of Katarina. He flew over Kenya Police College in Kiganjo but 14 kilometers from his planned goal, in Marua, the plane’s engines started to overheat.
He turned back to the airstrip, all the while shaking and fearing he was about to die. He prayed and promised never to do such a thing again. Above the roar of the engine, he could hear the joyful shouts of the police recruits as they shouted in their local dialect saying he was coming back. Their shouts motivated him to do his very best to land safely.
“As I approached the airstrip, I realised there were some tall trees, and between them a grove. I decided to fly through the section, but little did I know I would hit branches with one of the fixed wings, which caused the aircraft to lose balance and eventually crash,” he told the Standard.
Unfortunately, he flew the airplane through some trees and the fixed wing was caught on a branch. It lost balance and crashed leaving him unconscious and with scars that would last a lifetime.
In 1968-9 Kenyan inventor Morris Gachamba constructed a fixed-wing airplane at his shop in Karatina. The engine was from a motorcycle; the metal panels were made from repurposed tin signs. He called it Kenya One.
— Derek R Peterson (@Unseen_Archive) June 15, 2020
After leaving the hospital, he abandoned the dream of making an aircraft.
The wreckage from his aircraft was still in the forest since police land rovers were unable to tow it. He disassembled it and afterwards began making a car.
When a local media house met with him seven years ago, he appealed to the then president Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto to help him take the vehicle to competitions.
Following his botched attempt of making the aircraft, the late president Jomo Kenyatta had him hired in the electrical engineering department at Wilson Airport. He also secured an invite to the late president’s home in Gatundu and was given a parcel of land in Nyeri, which remains in his possession.
However, he quit the job within a short period since he had been authorised to perform wiring only yet according to him, he knew how to make an aircraft.
The father of six, who retired to his Blue Valley in Majengo, Nyeri town home, proceeded to make other things, a cross-bar bow, a hand operated plough and a rodent trap. He was even arrested by the police after being accused he was making weapons but he managed to convince them otherwise.