Norman Surplus survived cancer. Given less than a 50% chance of survival, he beat the odds. Then he was infected by the flying bug. After learning to fly an autogyro, he prepared to become the first pilot to fly it around the world. A celebration of life.
When I first met him, I was strangely inspired by a man who flies alone to embrace the world, and who is loved by the world in return.
Norman has now flown halfway around that world. Thousands of friends follow his every adventure online, including an unintentional ditching in a lake in Thailand.
I saw that lake from the air. As I banked a Cessna 172 over Nongprue airfield at Pattaya, my friend Neil pointed to the lake and spoke of the brave British pilot who made a splash in Thailand’s general aviation community.
Norman was very grateful to the residents who helped him recover and push on. Yet those who knew him here in Thailand speak of their pride over being part of Norman’s adventure.
This intrepid Irishman and his amazing autogyro! G-YROX is so small that you not so much sit in it, but on it.
Unlike a helicopter, an autogyro’s rotor blades are unpowered. They turn freely in the wind. The magic that allows a sailboat to tack against the wind similarly lifts the autogyro’s rotary wing in the very wind that blows against it.
A single aviator is flying alone around the world, in an open cockpit hanging from what is essentially a rotating metal sail.
Norman, a careful pilot, has GPS guidance, a Spot Tracker in the aircraft, a voice recorder, a Personal Locator Beacon, a life raft.
He is a crewman of a Royal National Lifeboat Institution rescue boat. He knows what it takes to survive an unscheduled landing in the Pacific or Atlantic oceans, both of which are on his route. He flies in a custom-made exposure suit.
In March, 2010, Norman left his hometown of Larne, Northern Ireland, on his yellow autogyro. He traversed to England, then flew down France to Italy and Greece. Crossed the Mediterranean to Egypt, then hopped the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman. Skirted the Indian Ocean to Pakistan and India, thence to Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia.
In August last year, 5 months after he left Ireland, Norman arrived in the Philippines. That was when Carlo and I first bumped into G-YROX.
Then a Gordian knot of bureaucratic frustrations trapped him. He had a small weather window last summer to transit the Bering Strait from northern Russia to Alaska. He couldn’t get clearances from the next countries on his route, and the summer window closed.
Norman left G-YROX at my home base, Woodland Airpark in the Philippines. And he went home to Ireland for the winter.
Every time I walked a friend through Woodland’s hangars, I always pointed out the brave little autogyro waiting to conquer the northern Pacific.
Nine months later, in May, 2011, Norman returned to the Philippines to resume his around-the-world record attempt. But the clearance to transit Japan remained elusive for two more frustrating months.
Negotiations, and a Facebook campaign for friends to directly appeal to Japanese embassies worldwide, finally secured the precious clearance.
On July 18, 2011, Norman Surplus and G-YROX left Woodland Airfield for the last time, staging north to Laoag.
When I began writing this – July 20 – Norman departed Laoag in the Philippines for Kadena Air Force Base on Okinawa. This overwater leg is one of the longest of the entire voyage. Tropical storm “Ma-on” was transiting southern Japan, but was not a major factor.
Hundreds of people around the world followed on Norman’s GPS Spot Tracker website as he flew for 9 hours over water to Okinawa.
Today, just 3 days after he left the Philippines, Norman has already flown the length of Japan. Next is the long, 450-mile overwater leg across to Vladivostok, Russia. Two months to get clearance, three days to clear the country.
For most people, flying is incarceration, crammed into a tight aluminum tube flown by uniformed strangers sealed behind locked cockpit doors.
I wondered how many airliner pilots flying over the route that day were totally clueless that down below, just above the Pacific Ocean, a solitary man with a surplus of courage was hand-flying a tiny aircraft on an enormous endeavor, watched by thousands of people around the world.
Every aircraft has a navigational beacon. G-YROX’s beacon sits in the cockpit. That man’s smile and heart shines a light seen clear around the world.
Good luck and Bon Voyage to Norman Surplus!
Posted from Bangkok, July 23, 2011
Be a friend to Norman, touch his adventure, and be inspired by his around-the-world flight in his autogyro!
Norman’s Facebook page, now at the maximum 5,000 friends
You can still join the Facebook page for Gyro-X Goes Global!
Norman’s Blogspot updates, exciting photos and heart-warming stories from around the world.
Norman’s Spot Tracker – watch Norman make his way around the world via automatic updates from the Spot Tracker installed in the aircraft.