Beating the odds—Homemade Malawi helicopter

It has never taken off, and could well be a death trap, but a homemade helicopter built in Malawi is drawing crowds captivated by its creator’s determination to succeed against all the odds.

Hope is sky high for homemade Malawi helicopter by Felix Kambwiri

Hope is sky high for homemade Malawi helicopter by Felix Kambwiri

Felix Kambwiri, 45, has spent the last four months constructing his dream machine out of scrap metal and fibreglass in his garage in the village of Gobede, 90 kilometres (55 miles) north of the capital Lilongwe.

Clambering inside the one-seater cockpit, he swings the door closed, turns the key, pumps the pedals, and the 125-cc secondhand engine roars into life as orange lights flash impressively.

The rotor blades, which nearly touch the workshop’s walls, increase to a furious speed, as the whole chassis starts to shake violently—but take-off remains elusive.

“I would like just to fly for even five minutes to show that I am serious about this and that it is not a joke. This helicopter can fly,” Kambwiri, a professional welder, told news agency AFP.

“Every day I receive many curious visitors who have heard about me.”

Kambwiri built the helicopter to his own design after failing to find any books to help fulfil his life’s passion.

But he has been warned that he should not undertake any test flights until the civil aviation authorities have completed safety checks.

“Police regularly come here to monitor progress and make sure I don’t fly without permission,” he explained, adding that he hopes to be airborne by June.

“I can understand their concern is about my safety, and that of people who might come in their hundreds on the day I fly the helicopter.

“I will not take risks. I will wait until I am ready. I cannot allow anyone to take the risk for fear of an accident.”

The helicopter is painted white with red and blue stripes, and has plastic windows, landing skids and a second rotor blade on its tail.

Kambwiri, who left school aged 16, has spent about $350 on the project, including $100 on its converted motorbike engine, which he hopes to upgrade if a donor comes forward with extra funds.

“Although I did not go far with school, I have tried my best. I want to show the world that we Malawians can do something and are intelligent,” he said.

“Some people coming here say I have gone mad, that this helicopter will kill me, or cannot fly because I am not educated.

“My imagination about building a helicopter grew when I began welding as a job,” said the former tailor and radio repairman.

Banda flying around

Among those who come to inspect progress are students from the local school who peer into the workshop as Kambwiri and his team of assistants, including an electrician, tinker with wiring.

His ambitious plan dates back to when he was a young boy and saw then president Hastings Kamuzu Banda flying around the country for campaign rallies and to visit remote villages.

Kambwiri, married and father of seven children, also credits his enthusiasm for flight to watching war movies and listening to radio programmes.

Despite initial concerns, Kambwiri’s wife Annes said she backs his efforts.

“I was frightened when I first heard that my husband was developing a helicopter because he had never done it before,” she told AFP.

“Later I accepted it, because everything is possible through God.”- AFP

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59 thoughts on “Beating the odds—Homemade Malawi helicopter”

  1. Davie phiri says:

    This real science not mbofyombofyo

  2. Bonnex Chiwete says:

    I would predge govt of Mw to give a hand in order to promote his accomplishments. Mw govt should be proud to have people like Mr Kambwiri who can put it on the world map.

    Please engage solders (Army and Police) to provide technical advice to make it real.

  3. Markmarkc says:

    Tizabwera tsiku loyesalo!tizawonerere kuuluka ndi kugwa kwanu bwana!kkkkk

  4. A fire nao ayenera kudzakhalapo poyesapo

  5. mfitizagonja says:

    kkkkkkkkkkkkkkk! go on mr kambwiri bola osakupheni.

  6. star says:

    can s motor bike engine fly a helicopter

  7. Gobede Kauma says:

    Mwana mngwanga uyu

  8. PRINCE ARKIE says:

    Osadandaula a Kambwiri, Ineyo ndili kakaka pambuyo panu. For I have an art of creating a wireless connection by using manmade materials, am in! you are soon going to see a Malawi full of highly skilled Village scientists! Mukuganiza ife umphawi umatisangalatsa eti? mumafuna tidzikamba zainu? Ansanjenu bakhalani tilibe nanu ntchito…mukuganiza ngati ndegeyi siidzauuluka??? olo chitakhala chaka chamawa komatu ife zitikhudza ndipo tiiulutsa ndegeyi. Muona!!!!!!!

  9. Thats great Kambwiri,Malawians needs such men ,Exposuring the strength of God to the development of the Nation.Legalise it !!

  10. Vin Mongu says:

    While agree with you Zondiwe, what I disagree with is the failure to launch innovation parks in malawi. where is polytechnic inn all this and where is national research council or teveta in this? one has an idea whihc he is failing to move forward — give him a push rather than pull him down. what did we do with a mulanje boy who did a community radio station — risk arrest until Gospel put him to school. in karonga someone put up a electricity scheme what did Govt do intellegently ZERO. What is happening is you see education science & technology budget cut by MK 500 million — why not get MK 0.5 billion and invest in technology feats like this one. Guys what else do we want the big GOD to give us apart from these heads we have. Next time we pray for head/brain replacement becoz all prayers are not working becoz it requires us to think beyond what GOD has provided.

  11. uncle B says:

    kambwiri’s idea is fantast we need such pple more than even him but he must ask ideas 4m other specialists of this field

  12. GADA says:

    THAT IS WONDERFUL. THOSE THAT ARE SAYING ‘THERE IS NOTHING NEW’ ARE SAYING SO OUT OF JEALOUSY. THEY ARE SCIENTISTS WITH PAPERS BUT WITHOUT DEEDS. WE WANT SCIENTISTS WITH DEEDS AND NOT HYPOCRISY.

  13. paul says:

    kkkkkkk koma yah

  14. amfana says:

    musiyeni kambwiri auluke

  15. tate says:

    Iwe Kambwiri chikuphatu chidengu chakocho.

  16. lawre says:

    this is not an invention nor a discovery or an improvement, he is just imitating something which was already done. wake up felix

    1. Mandela says:

      Felix is not eventing something new but he has ambition to open a factory to produce hellocpter here in malawi like what mikes trading does, producing tailors ok mr lawre

  17. Zondiwe says:

    No. 11 is right.
    Kambwiri has put a motor cycle engine in a contraption which resembles a helicopter. Aerodynamics is very important in flying. The vibrations that are being experienced can easily break the whole structure apart before reaching resonance frequency. The various forces need to be dealt with, flying, turning, landing, rising, etc, etc.
    His lack of scientific education has left the contraption exposed to immense technical danger. Safety needs to be emphasized, and a host of other issues come to mind. Before flying, he should have started by driving on land (terra firma) so as to cope with all the various forces. The idea is a good one, but technical people need to share their know-how so that Kambwiri is aware of what he is up against.

  18. Ruther Malunga says:

    Let people with experience help him the last part so that it flies. Remember my fellow Malawians that our country has no airplane n dis iz our chance to hav one.

  19. Wanga ndi yemweyo says:

    It is better to try and fail than to never try at all. Go ahead brother, you only have to take heed of the advice you are getting from the civil aviation authorities.

  20. Zammbuyo says:

    This is not a really exciting project as it only reproduces an exciting invention, not a new invention at all. In other words it is a copy.
    At this time and age, helicopter manufacturing is no longer a great achievement as you can buy a toy helicopter from shops and fly it around. Many toy manufacturers are making them and are even making toy drones for public consumption. Therefore it would be difficult to find funders for such a project.

    These days you will even buy toy helicopters from Shoprite and Games stores. Sorry Mr Kambwili, it is a reprica not new invention thus no interest from potential funders

  21. Mtchanga says:

    Go on! Its difficult for us to understand your dream before it come to be true: once it flys and land many will praise you, even when Noah was building the Ark, people called him all sorts of names, until when it rained for days, it was when they realised what he was doing. Never allow any PHDs on you

  22. Nkhedu says:

    KK #26 Wandiwaza heavy kkkk

  23. Masozi Mwenifumbo says:

    Brother Kambwiri,

    May God bless you for this skill and wisdom, and may He hasten the fruition of this project. It is good for the nation, so that man should know there is God is Heaven who is no respecter of persons, status, position in society, but He is a sure and steadfast rewarder of them that diligently seek Him in whatever noble endeavour they undertake, like this one!!! Amen!

  24. Sharp blades says:

    Ma rotor blades amenewo asenga makosi a anthu achidwi azungulirawo plz apolice tamuletsani ameneyo apha anthu. A Malawi chidwi

  25. Elijah Msukwa says:

    let him do it plz and lets support him

  26. Kasparovmagnus says:

    The plane project is a failure for anyone who has basic knowledge of physics!!!! Anyway its a good hobby for a guy like him

  27. Chomali says:

    Even the one who invented the first flying object died in the process, another person had to continue his dream he died also but the object kept on improving until wat we are seeing now the Boeing,helicopters,Concordes ETC

  28. Piper says:

    Not being sceptical but should try building maybe microlights, powered paragliders or even powered hang gliders. Surely they must be simpler to construct than making helicopter work. But it’s just my opinion. Good luck.

  29. Shapshap says:

    Ada Kambwiri uko nde kukhala mwana wa mwamuna go konko you have really impressed Malawi as whole mzako ku Uganda wa pangaso bus yoyendela solar we need such creative people in our society

  30. Kamwana says:

    We need people who think in such a way. Education is not the only solution. All we need is to support hi from where he has started. If Please provide your bank details and those of good will can contribute so that you can bring in some people with a bit of technical background. Ghana is manufacturing vehicles. Malawi can start manufacturing helicopters!!

  31. Tt says:

    My friend! you need lessons in aerodynamics and physics, do you really a motorbike engine can lift this weight? I am not an engineer but I know aircraft engines need to have lots of power per weight ratio, most of the metal in planes is aluminum coz its durable and lightweight! you should always consider these before building one! this is a white elephant! pepani

    1. jj says:

      iweyo waku school woziwa achina physics etc, what have you made?

  32. kk says:

    Kikkkkkkk ukaipa dziwa nyimbo, koma fisi ameneyo ukaima naye bho bho? kikkkkkk koma abale eish you have made my day yes yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! kikkkkkkkkk ayayayayayaya!!!!! i cant stop laughing hahahahahahahahahahaahah!!!!!!!!!!! komabe mukuthandiza chitukuko ku boma la DPP sinanga paja Ndege ija amai anamwera zi bonga,
    Apa tachita mwayi Bwana azitenga yomweyo akamapitan kumudzi ku Thyolo madam azikhala pa phewa kikkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk!!!!!

  33. kadansana says:

    its better to fail than never to try

  34. Malawian in Diapsora says:

    Bwana Felix Kambwiri, chonde tayesetsani chiuluke chimenecho mwina Malawi nkupeza forex mosavuta.

  35. young cash b chinangwa says:

    why cant the gvt or ngos help this guy … jx give him all resources he need

    u never know what might be the results from it … i surely believe he know what he is done …

    support him if he fail he fail but i dont think he can ever thought of it when he thought he would fail.

    malawian lets have spirit of embracing new things

  36. hm says:

    Please you can take an initiative to help him.

  37. Anzeru a kum'mawa says:

    Aja anathandiza woyimba kuti apite Ku Ameriica sangangomuguliranso mkuluyu helicopter.

  38. man g says:

    keep it up bro

  39. Markmarkc says:

    Dzaulukeni Braz muzatchuke!ubwino wake mwabereka mokwanila 7?sizocheza!Kukomera kwake akazanuso avomereza kukozekera umasiye ochita kuuyamba dala!

  40. Cool says:

    All is well.

  41. koma ngati ndifodya akupha iwe

  42. bigman says:

    Munthu wamkulu… Mchewa weniweni starting everything frm scratch… Big up

  43. Markmarkc says:

    dzaulukeni madala muzatchuke.ubwino wake akazanu umasiye awuvomereza kale.

  44. Chilungamo Chimawawa says:

    hahahaha wina wake waku BT amati ndi Jesus kkkkkkkkk sifyodya okaokha umenewu

  45. Andrew says:

    Wow, it is great that this individual has attempted the impossible in a country like Malawi,

    Whether the helicopter flts or not, he has used his time and imagination to fulfill a dream.

    Congratulations to him for coming up with the design and inspiration to other Malawians to attempt and dream of new things.

  46. Chalume says:

    Keep it up, mate! It all starts with a dream.

  47. Mbonga Matoga says:

    Being a mechanical engineer myself all I can say is that please help this man to invest his energies and resources into something that can help him in the future.

    Designing a flying object like a helicopter is not an easy thing other wise every country in the world would have been making their own helicopters.

    You have said in the story that the chassis vibrates violently when the engine is running, that’s a clear sign that the whole system is not well balanced or structurally sound. and that is what is going to break the whole thing apart when resonance is reached. I hope that wont happen when he is in mid air, assuming he manages to get it off the ground.

    I admire his ego by the way!!

  48. Geoffrey mbizi says:

    Felix the great thinker:D!

  49. D.J Newsern says:

    Please Malawi let us support our own industry… This helicopter can bring forex … Who knows… This English people starts from this far…

  50. nyaupilot says:

    Mr Kambwiri thank u for ur effort to build a helicopter and congratulations. Where u have reached is enough and u r a hero but expecting that a 125hp motorcycle engine has enough power to lift ur helicopter and urself up in the air is a miracle. The rotor has a pitch angle for lift up or down stabilize and move forward sideways or backwards all this r executed by intricate matching of the gearbox to the rotors from the powertrain! The engine and the gearbox must b matched perfecly. The government needs to assist him with someone from the MDF helicopter squadron to assist him otherwise a tragedy awaits if this helicopter takes off the ground without professional expertise from MAAW it will crash with fatal consequences, I rest my case and much obliged my lord!

  51. kamoto gerald says:

    go aherd kambwiri idzauluka tsiku lina.

  52. Kalogondo 1 says:

    Yes we know it will fly dont be stoped with anybody amalawi kuchuluka nsanje teleku apolice diso liripomwepo basi mpaka adyepo kkkkkkk

  53. masa masina says:

    At least, one Malawian in thinking creatively. Malawi needs more of such people. We need Malawians who can think of ways of turning our country rich and prosperous like Bingu of the first years in office. we more Felix Kambwiris.

  54. john phiri says:

    I LOVE THIS ONE, SOMETHING NEWSWORTHY HERE. IF IT KILL YOU MAN, YOU WILL DIE A HERO

  55. bj says:

    Tell him the truth assist him with technical advise otherwise he needs to restart from scratch……

  56. WAMISALA says:

    ENCOURAGE HIM PLEASE !!

    ENCOURAGE HIM PLEASE !!

    OUR DOCTORS ; ENGINEERS AND
    PROFFESSORS AKUNGOPHWISA
    MMA OFESIMU !!
    NSANJE SICHAMUNA !!

  57. Tilipo says:

    He needs safety guidelines support from professionals not knowledge. Let him follow his imagination. Power of visualization and self confidence.
    All things are possible.
    Nyasa plz keep us updated.

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