Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Year Ninjyas

As 2011 comes to an end, all of us at the Gyrox Goes Global team can look back on a year of highs and lows for the Gyrox adventure. The feeling of Deja Vu is also prominent in our feelings with an urge to express the words 'if only'. But since the quest began in March 2010 the words 'if only' have been replaced with the phrase...'Oh well, there's always next year' and we are now looking forward to 2012 with a renewed optimism  that Norman and Roxy will finally alight again on to the playing fields in Larne after completing the circumnavigation, hopefully sometime next summer.
In the meantime, Norman has decided to write a number of interesting and entertaining articles about the quirkier side of Japanese life as a New Year present to his supporters whilst they wait for the big day when flying starts again. So how best to start off a series on Japan (very much Norman's second home at the moment) and the unusual side of life there than an article on the famous but secretive Ninjyas.

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How to Spot a Ninjya Living in Your Town

Japanese Ninjyas, (spelt Ninjas in some parts) are those masked superhero figures who are expert at all aspects of Martial Arts. They are often portrayed in films and comic books as mystical (almost mythical) in their superhuman powers and secretive ways. Yet, with their cunning masked disguise (and the highly overactive imagination of your GGG investigative observer) they could easily, almost certainly, be living next door to you in your temporarily adopted Japanese home town. You would simply never know - unless, that is, you are armed with the following 'official GGG essential guide' - How to Spot a Ninjya Living in Your Quirky Town...

The Ninjya Boot - Ninjya typically wear baggy coverall outfits, robed from head to foot. However, to remain nimble on their feet and to perform all their rooftop leaps and overly dramatic high kicks (into thin air) they much prefer to wear boots that have very flexible soles and that prove very sticky for clambering around the rooftops on secret missions.
Rather surprisingly you can buy your very own set of Ninjya boots in regular shops without showing any ID proof of your real (or imaginary) special superhero status. 
This boot was spotted in a large hardware store and rather helpfully was on offer in the shop as a 'buy one get one free' deal (which is very useful for fitting out your other foot!).

In Tsuruoka I was fortunate to witness several Ninjya going about their every day 'cover' jobs. Typically it appears that they disguise themselves as Roofing Contractors - as seen here. 
However, the baggy trousers and tell-tale Ninjya boots give away the fact that they are obviously on a top secret spying mission rather than simply photographing a broken roofing tile...

The Ninjya Nest - Again, on my travels on foot around the backstreets of Tsuruoka during the late summer I kept my camera handy and kept a keen and watchful eye on the rooftops. My ongoing vigilance paid off on one of my regular trips back from the shopping centre when I spied a very clever construction that could only be described as a 'Ninjya Nest'. This wooden igloo structure would make a fine operational base for a Ninjya hiding out in town; it looks innocent enough until you spot the satellite communications dish sticking out of the top...used for innocently watching the Sumo Wrestling World Championships??? I don't think so!! Interpol, CIA, MI6, NASA...all take note! The nest proved temporary however as it disappeared overnight shortly before a period of heavy rain was forecast...very clever these Ninjyas...

More 'Official GGG Essential Guides', on various subject designed to help your ongoing survival in everyday Japan, coming soon...


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Please note...No Ninjya was harmed during the writing of this article.
We at the GGG Team look forward to the next installment from Norman's Essential Guides as we are sure they will brighten up the winter months until the spring arrives and the serious business of circumnavigating globe continues.

The Gyrox Team

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Friday, December 23, 2011

December Round-up 2011

December 2011

Winter arrives - Norman poses with snow capped Mount Chokai in the background
Note too, the now harvested rice fields in the foreground
Here we are again! For the second year running I have found myself in an unavoidable position of preparing Roxy for another long winter 'rest' period. I have recently returned (during November) to Tsuruoka and Shonai Airport to perform some ongoing (and annual) maintenance tasks on Roxy - background jobs that need to be done to every aircraft in order to keep it fit and healthy. Performing these works, on a UK registered aircraft whilst sitting in rural Japan however has given their own complexities, especially when you are also obliged to work to the exacting UK CAA standards throughout the process.

Mr Kanda getting to grips with a
big torque-wrench during maintenance
Ever up for a collective challenge however, between the airport Management Staff, ANA maintenance Department Manager (Mr Kanda) and the collective muscle of the airport fire station personnel we were able to source all the requisite tools and equipment needed to complete the tasks in hand.
Happily I can now report that Roxy is well prepared to weather the bitter winter conditions that can see 6ft (2 meters) of lying snow as 'normal'

Green is the colour! And not
 just the work overalls,
temporarily replacing the famous
'Red Suit', coolant is made
 highly visible so leaks can
be detected more easily.
 One of the important jobs has been to replace the summer coolant in the engine.
This had been introduced in Thailand and of course was still perfectly suitable last winter in the tropical 30 degrees 'winter' of the Philippines.
But now with the harsh Japanese winter conditions approaching and with the next stop being Russia and the Arctic Circle, it was an essential task to change the coolant for a version containing much more anti-freeze properties.

Test running the engine up to operational temperature on the apron at Shonai Airport after coolant exchange -
November 2011

You can see from the picture here - of a recent overnight snowfall in Tsuruoka - good anti-freeze is obviously quite important!

No wonder with this amount of snow that some other precautions are taken for the onset of winter. One of the more interesting activities that takes place every year (and highlights the ingenuity of the Japanese in protecting their treasured natural environment) involves protecting all the ornamental trees from these very heavy and sudden falls of snow. The method involves erecting a strong pole up through the branches of the tree, off which an intricate array of rope supports are attached to hold up each of the boughs. In this way when the tree is heavily laden with snow the support pole and ropes take most of the additional weight and the tree doesn't suffer from any broken branches.

And Finally...

With Christmas time fast approaching, it has been fascinating to watch the ongoing preparations in Japan for this festive season. Iconic features that are known the world over, such as the traditional Christmas Tree, is of course very much in evidence. However, this being Japan, things don't always turn out quite as first expected...and the splendid tree seen in a Tsuruoka shopping mall is a case in point. On first glimpse you are impressed by the fine array of decorations on this classic tree, however, on further and closer inspection the wording of the Christmas message at the base of the tree can't help but leave you feeling slightly bemused...

For me, this slightly wayward Christmas message sums up something of the character of such a fantastic, quirky, dynamic, optomistic, unique society that Japan exhibits in abundance.
Circumstances beyond my control have dictated that I have spent a lot more time here than expected - I am very please to report however that this extra time has turned out to be a fascinating experience.

Hopefully the Russian Red Tape will be cleared away to allow a late Spring continuation of the Circumnavigation. In the mean time, during the winter months, I will be kept busy writing up the full account of the numerous adventures that have happened so far in this unpredictable global expedition; situations that you couldn't have even imagined prior to the take off day back in March 2010. Who would have thought then that the flight would still be ongoing right into 2012!!

It only remains for me to wish on behalf of everyone at Gyrox Goes Global, all the best for a happy festive season and hope that we all have a peaceful (and non-bureaucratic) New Year.


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Monday, December 19, 2011

New World Records

It has been a while since we have been able to post any news to this blog page but rest assured, Norman has not let the grass grow beneath his feet and has been very busy with preparations for the resumption of the flight next spring.

Norman has also been busy compiling some blog posts that will be run over the Christmas and holiday period, but first we are excited to announce that the F.A.I. (Federation Aeronautique Internationale) has awarded Norman with four new World Records for Autogyro flying.

The records awarded are…

Claim number: 16277 Course/location: Laoag (Philippines) - Okinawa (Japan)
Performance : 127.9 km/h
Date :20.07.2011

Claim number: 16278 Course/location: Okinawa (Japan) - Goto (Japan)
Performance : 111.2 km/h
Date :21.07.2011

Claim number: 16281 Course/location: Goto (Japan) - Oki (Japan)
Performance : 116.1 km/h
Date :22.07.2011

Claim number: 16280 Course/location: Larne, NI (UK) - Oki (Japan)
Performance : 0.79 km/h
Date :22.07.2011
'FAI congratulates the Pilot on these splendid achievements.'

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Obviously some of the speeds may appear to be very slow but this is because the record includes time spent on the ground. Even so, Norman has been breaking and creating records for autogyro flying for nearly two years now and we are sure there are many more to follow, including the main one…First Flight Around the World by an Autogyro.
The F.A.I. World Record Attempt logo on the nose of Roxy.
Everyone at the GyroxGoesGlobal team congratulates Norman on his record breaking achievements and look forward to writing about the next awards. Until then we can look forward to some entertaining and descriptive blog posts from Norman himself coming very soon.
The Gyrox Team
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Thursday, September 29, 2011

An Important Message From Norman

It has been a while since we have been able to post any news from Japan, this is mainly because of the stalemate with the Russian authorities concerning permits for Norman to enter Russian airspace and fly across their country.

As many people will remember from last year, any hold up at this time of year can have a knock-on effect with weather problems further along the route. Because of the length of the delay and because of Norman’s expediency in all matters concerning safety a decision had to be made.
Norman has decided to tell everyone in his own words the decision he has made and why…

Wintering in - yet again….
Who would have thought when recommencing the circumnavigation flight in May this year that I would still be facing the prospect of seeking to overwinter ROXY in yet another far off land only a few short months later in September. Yet this is exactly what has come to pass in the past few weeks while I’ve been waiting oh so patiently for permission to fly on from Japan to Russia and thence onwards to Alaska. The Bering Sea (as happened last year - and of course which happens every year….) has once again begun to pull its all enveloping,  winter cloak of snow and ice around itself as an extremely efficient, protective deterrent against any would be open cockpit flyers who would dare to challenge it at this most volatile and changeable time of the year.
This has of course left me with the problem of what to do next? The actual decision to halt the flight (again) has been the relatively easy part. Further north in Russia, the increasingly changeable recent weather patterns combined with early reports from Alaska that the weather there had also already started to turn, meant that by the time mid- September appeared it was quite evident that the Bering Sea crossing would have to be deferred for a second winter. Once again I found myself facing the prospect of finding a safe haven for the aircraft that could logistically accommodate us for the coming months. Various options presented themselves and all then had to be considered.
Flying back South and West towards the warmer climes of the Philippines looked to be one possibility. However on closer inspection, the prospect of making the long open sea crossing between the Japanese Island chain and Luzon Island in the Philippines against the prevailing winds would have proved to be a hugely uncertain physical undertaking, never mind the added logistical minefield of trying to obtain Japanese overflight permission for a second time (when the first time was something of a triumphant achievement in itself). Or a third time for that matter for, of course, if I was back down on Luzon Island I would then have to re-fly the Japanese route back up to Shonai next spring. All in all, it seemed too risky and too complicated to consider any further.
Onwards to (just) enter Russia was another option to consider, however, the blinding and break neck speed that the Russian Permission is still being pushed through their ultra slick Bureaucratic system (“Blinding” as in, catching a glimpse of the welding arc used to weld the box presumably containing my whole permission application to the floor, “Break Neck” as you then trip over it…and  “Slick” might just be a typo error…) has meant that we still haven’t got the definitive word from Russia to proceed with the flight. This, after 2 months of waiting and on top of the fact that outline permission had already been given, way back in March 2010 (and before I had commenced the flight at all). This original permission, subject to some easily achieved provisos (such as carrying a Russian speaker, emergency satellite phone and conducting all flights in daylight hours), had been the catalyst, the “green light” if you will, to set off in the first place as I knew full well that without transiting Russia and the Bering Sea this type of circumnavigation would otherwise have been impossible to complete. To be then subsequently told (once we were sure of a realistic date of entry - late July this year) that we would then have to effectively submit the whole application again, as things (and perhaps people?) have moved on since last year, has been very, very, frustrating to say the least… 
So, without the onward final permission from Russia (yet) even the prospect of simply flying as far as Vladivostok to overwinter there hasn’t been an allowable option (yet…). This situation may change if the permission does now come through miraculously soon, but on current form it’s perhaps better odds to back me achieving all out victory in the All Japan Sumo Wrestling championships that are being screened on TV at the moment…
Therefore, with both the Philippines and Russia ruled out for these various reasons, it was then left to our obvious first choice option, namely to seek permission to overwinter the aircraft precisely where it is now: - Shonai Airport, Yamagata Prefecture, East Japan.
The facilities at Woodland Airpark (where the aircraft wintered last year) and the special care and attention given there by Jay Cook, will prove to be a very hard act to follow, but the very capable and imaginative staff at Shonai Airport are certainly hoping to rise to the challenge! The flight restrictions placed on the aircraft generally in Japan mean that most ongoing activity at Shonai will likely be ground based maintenance and taking measures to guard against the much colder winter weather (after all, 6 feet of drifting snow is not that common in the Philippines…) and we can expect more updates on this new chapter of Roxy’s already very chequered (!) history in the coming weeks and months.
Indeed so much has been happening on the ground in Japan since my arrival here 2 months ago, that I feel there are many more fantastic stories to tell to the blog as we collectively gather around our online winter fireside*,waiting for the late arctic spring to appear once again. Varied topics will feature here, such as “how to spot a Ninja living in your town”, “living with techno toilets (and other gadgets)”, “plastic has never looked so tasty!” and “Rice harvesting for beginners”.
*with apologies of course to all our followers who happen to live in hotter parts of the world and who perhaps have no concept of what a “winter fireside” is, lucky you!  
Now, where did I leave that Sumo Belt…?!
Cheers N.
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Norman arrives at Shonai where Roxy will now spend the winter.

It is sad news that once again bureaucracy has brought this magnificent adventure to a grinding halt. The fact that our brave aviator is doing something unique and for such a good cause seems to go over the heads of these faceless pen pushers in so many countries, but they haven’t reckoned with the tenacity of Norman Surplus.
Norman hasn't been idle whilst in Japan. Here, he is giving talks to local schoolchildren.

You can guarantee he will be back in the spring, equipped with the necessary documents that will allow him to finally finish the first ever circumnavigation of the globe by autogyro. We hope you, Norman’s faithful followers, will all be back next year, cheering him on and showing your undying support that Norman has appreciated so much over the last 18 months.

Norman has actively been promoting "Ganbarou Tohoku !!" Tohoku is the region directly affected by the Tsunami back in March and Ganbarou means "Go on! We are with you!" Here Norman applies a "Ganbarou Tohoku !!" sticker to Roxy at Shonai.
Norman will be returning home to his family very soon, after a sad farewell to his new friends in Japan and of course Roxy, with the promise of returning soon. We at the Gyrox team will still be working hard to keep everyone informed and entertained during the winter months until the day arrives when we can announce that the adventure is on again.
Thank you all for your past support and we hope you will stay with us until the flight of a lifetime has reached its goal, next year.
The Gyrox Team
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(Unless otherwise credited, all images on this blog are the property of GyroxGoesGlobal and may be used with prior permission from

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Deja Vu: Your help is needed again.

A feeling of Déjà Vu has descended over the GyroxGoesGlobal camp. Once again we are nearing the cut-off point for continuation of the flight northwards.

With the small summer weather window quickly closing, the realities are that once again Norman may have to call a halt to flight with the hope of resuming it next spring.

The problems, once again, are all down to bureaucracy and the inability of the Russian authorities to issue the required permits that would allow Norman to fly up the east coast of the Russian mainland before making the treacherous crossing of the Bering Straits and reaching the aviation-appreciative shores of Alaska, USA.
Norman, as can be expected, is not happy even just contemplating having to call a halt to the flight. Considering what he has been through it will be a shame that some faceless pen pushers will end this epic, brave and unique journey that has inspired so many and kept the world on the edge of their seats for so many months.
But even so, Norman is still upbeat and being a man who never gives up, still has an optimistic view on the events. There has been a massive assault on the world’s media over the last few days by Norman and the Gyrox team, in the hope that with enough public backing then the Russian authorities may change their stance and finally give Norman the permits he so urgently needs.
(Click the links above to see the news articles).
So all is not lost and even though the ‘seasonal’ clock is ticking, there is still time to make that final effort to get to the USA and Canada in time.
How can You, Norman’s faithful supporters, help? There are a number of things you can do.
1.       Contact your local Russian embassy and let them know that you and many others are disappointed with the Russian authorities for blocking this amazing flight, especiall as it is for a good cause.
2.       Contact your local/national media – press/TV – and make them aware of the problem, suggesting they run something that may make everyone aware of the problems, and maybe use our links to illustrate the story.
3.       Go to the Facebook pages (see links below) and post your supportive messages so that we can show that there is a massive worldwide audience watching the events happening in Russia.
Of course, we will keep you up to date with any breaking news concerning these ongoing negotiations and hope that with your support we can reach a positive outcome.
Many thanks for your patience and support
The Gyrox Team
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Monday, August 15, 2011

Triangular Travel Tales

As the world waits patiently for the Gyrox adventure to continue, Norman himself has been very busy over the last week, racing around the Island of Honshu, chasing up the elusive permits that will enable him to leave Japan and enter Russia.
His 700 mile triangular journey from Tsuruoka, the city near Shonai where Norman is staying, would take in Kyoto,Niigata and Tokyo. But before departing from Tsuruoka last week, Norman partook of a meal at the cozy Izakaya restaurant with his hosts, Aki Takano and Mr. Muraoka. Here he was able to try a traditional Japanese dish called ‘Natto’, a bowl of fermented soy beans, renowned for its pungent smell.

Norman looking a bit tentative as he tries Natto for the first time

But Norman proved he wasn't just a brave pilot but also a brave epicure too! In fact he does seem to be enjoying the dish and probably asked for seconds! At least there was a good supply of Saki available to wash it down with.
Mmmm, delicious?
A pleasant evening was enjoyed by everyone and during the following days Norman would be off on his grand tour of Honshu Island, chasing the all important pieces of paper needed to start flying again.
Over dinner conversation with Norman and Mr. Muraoka.
Norman and Aki (left) thank the owner and staff at the Izakaya restaurant
Click here to see a video on the right way to eat Natto!

But first, Norman and local English teacher, Mr Noguchi  visited a spectacular Firework display in Sakata City about 12 miles north of Tsuruoka. It turned out to be an outstanding display, choreographed in the unsurpassable Japanese way, which amazed Norman.
Norman has managed to capture the spectacle of a Japanese Firework display with this amazing photograph!

Norman’s first destination was Kyoto, approximately 300 miles south of Tsuruoka. He had planned this stop to get some sightseeing in as Kyoto, once the capital of Japan, has an abundance of World Heritage Sights within the city limits.

But first he needed a hotel to stay in and seeing he was in Japan it was only fitting that he try out one of the famous 'Pod Hotels'. Luckily, within 10 minutes walking distance from Kyoto train station was the 'Capsule Ryokan Kyoto Pod Hotel', a modern take on the crowded Tokyo pod hotels.
Traditional 'Pods' at the Ryokan Hotel
Although the hotel has a number of traditional ‘Pods’, Norman chose to stay in the larger (but not by much) Ryokan En-suite Pods, complete with ‘automatic’ toilet!
A Ryokan 'Suite', complete with automatic toilet?
Norman was able to hire a bicycle and was soon off on his travels around the beautiful parks with their amazing, ancient shrines and temples.
The immaculate 7th century Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto
But with sightseeing over (all too soon) it was time to get back on the trail of the all-important permits.
This meant another train ride, this time to the modern capital of Tokyo 250 miles east of Kyoto. A lengthy journey shortened by the speed at which Norman travelled.

Riding on the world famous Shinkansen Bullet train, Norman passed through the Japanese countryside at speeds up to 270 kmh (168 mph), twice the speed he has been travelling at in Roxy!

Norman describes in his own words the journey and this fantastic train…
The Ultra-modern Kyoto train station!
"The Shinkansen “Bullet” trains have been a fabulous way to travel (at 270kmph!-168mph) between Kyoto and Tokyo (and I also travelled from Tokyo - Niigata). The route went past Mount Fuji but alas the summer haze reduced visibility such that it slid past unnoticed on the train…."
Two Japanese icons: The Shinkansen Bullet Train passes Mount Fuji.
"With the train noticeably leaning around the corners you get a real sense for the speed and at times the undulating ground also gave a slight negative G (hump back bridge) sensation as you dropped down slightly over a “hill” - such was the speed that the slightest changes in gradient were amplified into a sensation akin to being on a motorbike winding through the undulating countryside (or riding atop the flying mosquito…) . We careered towards the sides of densely wooded steep hillsides, seemingly certain to smash into the side of the hill, but only to be swallowed whole, in an instant, into yet another blacked out tunnel, a relatively quiet underground world with less sense of speed until you exploded once more into the bright sunshine of the daylight again."
The ultra-sleek and futuristic Shinkansen Bullet Train
"Meeting another train going the other way is the real proof of speed. With the combined closing speed of say 540kmh (336mph) two Shinkansen take only about 6 seconds to flash by each other and these trains remember are very long, perhaps 18 carriages…So fast that you cannot see the windows on the opposite train. Each row of seats, 2 on one side of the aisle and 3 on the other are arranged with one smallish window each side (like on an aircraft) and the very clever part is that when the Shinkansen pulls into the final station on its route all the train seats are designed to swivel around to face the other way for the return journey!!"
The airliner style 'cabin' of a Shinkansen
"No need for loop lines or old fashioned train turntables here! The cleaning staff immediately gets to work turning all the seats while the passengers form orderly queues at each doorway ready to embark. A process that perhaps takes all of 10 minutes and then as a grand finale the 15 or so staff promptly line up on the platform with backs to the train and give a perfectly choreographed collective bow to the waiting passengers! The respect for the passengers and train doesn’t end there as each time the conductor or the stewardesses enter and leave each train carriage during the journey they also turn to the passengers and bow… all very civilised indeed!"

"Cheers, Norman."

The decision to visit Tokyo was made because of the help being received from the British Embassy staff and also because the Russian Embassy is sited there too. Both of them important in the struggle to get the permits arranged in time for Norman to continue his flight before the winter sets in across the Bering Sea.

Some time ago, Norman was invited to stay with a lovely, quintessentially British, family in Tokyo and who have really turned out to be firm “Friends of Gyrox”. They have been helping him navigate around Tokyo to the various Embassies and not only have they been great hosts and of great assistance with the dreaded red tape but they have also accompanied Norman on various social outings in this remarkable capital city.

Norman with a 'Pink Girl'
One of the first outings, last Sunday afternoon, was to Yoyogi Park, the site of the first ever powered flight in Japan back in 1910 by Captain Tokugawa. Here Norman met a 'Pink Girl'. This is a fashion statement in Japan, based around the Manga phenomenon and even goes to the extreme of the girls wearing coloured contact lenses that give their eyes a cartoon/doll like appearance.
Manga eyes on a 'Pink Girl'
On another night-time outing Norman saw something that could have been a sign. In fact it was a sign, but coincidence? Maybe this night club sign was saying ‘Roxy is waiting and you will be flying with her soon’. We all hope so.
It's an omen!
So yesterday, Monday 15th August, Norman returned by Bullet train to Niigata where he changed to the more relaxed and scenic views of the coastal railway that took him back to his temporary home in Tsuruoka, where he, like all of us, will be waiting for that all important news from Russia.
A busy triangular week!
A week of long distance travel, interspersed with hectic negotiations and pleasant distractions has come to an end and a new week begins with some sense that the trip to Tokyo might well have been worth it.
Norman sending the updates back to us from a very nice Japanese internet cafe!
Our hopes are high for a resumption of the flight sometime this week and Norman is back in place, preparing for that eventuality.

The Gyrox Team

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(Unless otherwise credited, all images on this blog are the property of GyroxGoesGlobal and may be used with prior permissionfrom
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