Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Der Spiegel article Translated.

Thanks to Mr James Martin and his father in law, the article posted yesterday from the German Magazine 'Der Spiegel' has now been translated into English.
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43.500 kilometers in an open cockpit

Norman Surplus, from Northern Ireland, intends to be the first person to circumnavigate the globe in a tiny gyrocopter. In his attempt to set up a world record, he will have to fight against bureaucracy and adverse weather conditions. Twice already he had to make an emergency landing.

The news spread swiftly on this muggy day in a very small village near Calcutta. People were talking about a bright yellow object of the size of an ox floating down from the skies and landing in the middle of their fields. They also saw it in the neighbouring village.

On this afternoon in April, some two hundred people gathered within five minutes around this mysterious flying apparatus. A man in a bright red suit alights from this machine. Gesticulating, the man moves to the rear seat, fumbles around for a while. Then he gets back in again, waves briefly and takes off again.

This is what Norman Surplus, the man in the red suit, tells us. That yellow thing is his gyrocopter. The 47 year old Norman is attempting to be the first person to circumnavigate the world in his autogyro. He set off on 22nd March from his home town Larne in Northern Ireland and hopes to land there again at the beginning of October. By then he will have covered 43,500 kilometers and visited 24 countries; a flight over deserts, mountain ranges and three oceans.

The fuselage of the gyrocopter is not much larger than a two-man bob. Three small wheels are fixed to this fuselage, whilst the rudder is attached by a thin aluminium rod. The rotor operates by the airstream. The engine, which drives only the propeller at the rear, is unprotected. The cockpit is open. No wonder the people of the Indian village were amazed at the pilot. On that afternoon in April, Surplus had to make an emergency landing in order to top up the fuel by hand because an air bubble had clogged up the fuel hose. “I think the people there are still talking about it”, Surplus said with a smile.

The unusual aircraft has a magnetic effect on people everywhere. Wherever Surplus touches down, people come in droves to have a look. Most people have never seen such a machine. “I often take myself back to the twenties when the sight of an aeroplane caused similar reaction”, Surplus added with a smile.

At the moment, he and his yellow gyrocopter are in the Philippines. He left behind him the
beaches of France, Italy and Greece, the pyramids of Giza, the Saudi Arabian desert, the sheikhdoms of Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, the Indian subcontinent, as well as Myanmar/Burma, Thailand and Malaysia. In the next days and weeks he wants to fly on to Taiwan, Japan, via Russia to the Bering Straits to Alaska, Canada and the United States, and from there via Greenland, Island and the Faeroe Islands via the Atlantic back to Northern Ireland.

In his 160 kilometers per hour “convertible”, Surplus covers some 700 kilometers per day on average. His aircraft comes from a German firm. “They have the best build quality,” says the pilot, who owns a wind power plant business in Larne. The gyrocopter gives the impression of a toy. When he is sitting in it, it reminds him of the sandman, who, it seems, always looked a little bit too big in comparison to this flying machine. The circumnavigation of the world in a flying nutshell, a thought which might cause others to break out in a cold sweat, holds a great attraction for him. “You feel the airstream, and the view is marvelous,” he comments. As a matter of fact, he regards flying his machine as the simplest part of the project. “Most difficulties are caused by bureaucracy,” says Surplus.

Landing permission, overfly rights, flight altitudes – everything has to be sorted out before and complied with. For instance, the Egyptians insisted upon keeping to an altitude of 2,500 metres. “Pretty cold at that height,” said Surplus with a smile. His normal height is about 1,000 metres. “Even my survival suit wasn’t much help at that height.” This suit was specially made for him in Finland and was a mixture of nylon, Teflon and polyurethane to keep him warm and dry and to protect him from the sun in the tropics. In addition, it also has a red emergency button. If pressed, it sends a signal to a rescue centre in England and gives his present position.

It was not possible to get overfly rights for China. Surplus had to plan a route around the country. In retrospect, it was a good thing. “By planning my route in this way, I met many interesting people and cultures which I would have missed otherwise,” he said. Russia, too, will present a bureaucratic challenge. The authorities there insist on carrying a Russian in the rear seat to accompany me. The problem is that the rear seat already accommodates my entire luggage and on top of it two additional fuel tanks which increase the range of the gyrocopter from the normal 480 to nearly 1,300 kilometers.

Red tape is even more unpredictable than the weather. There is no autopilot in the gyrocopter. So in bad weather conditions it cannot fly. On several occasions, Surplus had to stop flying temporarily. One such unusual occurrence sticks in mind when, in Saudi Arabia, on the route from Riyadh to Doha, there was a sudden desert storm. He was unable to return as the next storm was already brewing behind him. So, without further ado, he touched down next to a filling station on a road in the middle of the desert. At first, the Saudis looked a bit confused but then offered him sweet chai tee and a place to sleep. Next morning, Surplus pushed his flying machine, which weighs only 500 kilos, to the petrol pump – it uses just ordinary petrol.

When on the ground, Surplus, with his unusual aircraft, quickly becomes friends with people. And even up in the air he never feels lonely. Anybody can find his current position on their own computers by what is called a Spot Tracker. “This is psychologically important for me,” says Surplus. “It gives me the feeling as if a thousand people are with me during the flight in the rear seat looking over my shoulder.”

The round-the-world trip of Surplus is a great personal triumph. Only seven years ago, when he was 40, it didn’t look as if he would still be alive in 2010 as he was diagnosed with bowel cancer. In hospital, it was mainly television that took his mind off things. Once when he was zapping through the channels during the morning programme, he saw scenes of an old autogyro being restored. Up to now, such machines were only known to him through James Bond films. He was impressed by their lightness and agility and vowed to learn to fly such a machine as soon as he would leave the hospital. Contrary to all prognoses, he battled successfully through the chemotherapy. Soon after he was discharged from hospital, he carried out his promise and he began his flying training on the gyrocopter.

With his circumnavigation of the earth Surplus intends also to raise money for cancer research which has also benefited him. And he wants to set an example. ”The flight around the world will show what you can achieve with a positive attitude and will encourage people who think that they are in the same hopeless situation that I was in at the time,” Surplus said.

He is not the first person who has tried such a circumnavigation of the world. In 2004 Barry Jones, of Great Britain, failed because of the Indian monsoon rain which flooded his gyrocopter. And Surplus, too, once thought that he had reached the premature end of his project when, on 1st May, he had to make a forced landing on a lake in Thailand. Thanks to the shallow water, it was possible to save his aircraft and his luggage.

He refused to give up after this incident, but for some time it was rather doubtful whether he would be able to continue. It took three months until his gyrocopter was airworthy again. He is still facing one of the biggest challenges: crossing the Atlantic with its unpredictable weather. Surplus is looking forward to it. “At least the temperatures will be like at home. 47 degrees, like in India, were simply just too much.”
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Here is the link again to the original Der Spiegel article which has photos of the adventure. Thanks go again to James Martin for the translation.

The Der Spiegel Article

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