Saturday, December 27, 2014

All at Sea - Part Two

This is the second part of Norman's Christmas and New year blog post 2014 in which he describes what has been happening to and what will be planned for the Gyrox Goes Global adventure. In part one he described how 3 years of stalemate ended with his decision to forego the 'full' circumnavigation attempt as any hope of flying across the Pacific using Russian airfields as stepping stones to Alaska was dashed by the 'powers that be' in Russia. 
In this part, written by Norman, we find out how 'Roxy' finally left Japan, where she is now and what Norman has planned for 2015...

Moving Times

My first goal was to move the aircraft from Shonai Airport – as I was not permitted to fly Roxy over to North America, the next best thing was to order up a shipping container and send her over there by sea.
Firstly the logistics of shipping an aircraft by this method threw up some challenges…by consultation with Gerry Speich back at Rotorsport UK, we knew that by removing the mainwheels and rotorhead the MT-03 is capable of fitting into a standard 20 foot shipping container, however the big unknown was how to maneuver the aircraft into the container without any wheels in place….this would remain a concern until we actually had a go at getting it in the box…more of this later on…!
Prior to that we had to organize the move of the aircraft from Airport to Seaport…fortunately Shonai Airport is only about 30 minutes drive from Sakata Seaport and so with the help of Kudo Masanobu (Shonai Airport) and Endo Hirofumi (Nippon Express) we devised a plan…
Roxy gets her final roll-out at Shonai Airport.
The first job was to hire a flatbed truck (of the type used to transport cars that have broken down). The truck was allowed to enter ‘airside’ at the airport and we were able to quickly roll Roxy up onto the trucks rear loading ramp and secure in place for the journey. 
Roxy is loaded onto the flat-bed truck and Norman receives airport stickers from the management.
A lovely ceremony was held outside the Airport building to mark the aircraft's final departure after her 3 years of enforced residency, a somewhat bitter sweet experience as you can imagine, given that my real aim had been to fly her onwards rather than proceed on the back of a truck. 
Norman receives a 'Good Luck' banner from the airport staff.

Norman and Roxy with the airport and operations staff

Norman and Roxy with the Shonai Airport Fire service who have hosted Roxy for the last 3 years.
The journey to the Sakata Seaport went smoothly, with just the odd look of curiosity from fellow road users and passers-by!
After 3 years, Roxy is finally on the move again.

Taking the coastal road to Sakata Sea Port.
Unloading the Gyro was easily done inside one of the large cargo holding sheds at the port and a quick discussion followed with the Nippon Express ‘stuffers’ (for that is what you do when loading a container at the docks - you literally ‘stuff’ the goods into the box) about how to load up the shipping container the next day.

Roxy arriving at Sakata Seaport
When it came, the next day proved to be quite dramatic! Our primary objective was to get the Gyro to fit in the box…there was no problem in length or width but the mast on a MT03 gyro is normally much higher than can fit in through the door frame of a standard 20 foot shipping container. We had already removed the Rotor blades at the airport and to now further reduce the overall height I removed the whole Rotor Head assembly from the mast head. Next the main wheels and brake caliper assemblies were also removed and replaced with small trolley wheels (think supermarket trolley size). 
Roxy looking very odd with her new main undercarriage wheels!
This gave the Gyro a very odd appearance, almost scraping its belly along the floor but it had the desired effect of reducing the overall height whilst keeping some degree of maneuverability in order to roll the aircraft into the container. The big question now was  were the trolley wheels small enough in diameter? There was only one way to find out for sure; we rolled Roxy to the slight ramp to enter the container and initially we tried pushing her in nose first…the front end fitted but alas the mast section was still about 5 mm too high for the doorframe!
There's always Plan B
We all looked at each other a little aghast and with rising trepidation we hauled her back out and tried again, this time going in tail first. The slight ramp up into the container kept the nose wheel lower than the raised container floor and this meant that a favourable angle was kept on the mast as it approached under the doorframe…and with much whooping and hollering, in a lovely controlled manouvre, much like a limbo dancer performs, the mast gracefully slid under and inside the doorframe with only 3 mm to spare!!
3 millimeters more and Roxy would still be in Japan :-)
A big relief all round as those 3 mm prevented the need to use a special container with a higher roof (which are all twice as long at 40 feet, the addition of which would have easily added over US$1000 to the overall shipping costs!

With Roxy now safely inside the box all that remained was to chock the suspension bow/airframe, load in the boxes of spare parts, blades and other assorted ‘luggage’ and lash everything down with copious quantities of cargo strap tape. 
Roxy and assorted 'luggage' being battened down for the long sea voyage.
After one last check inside, the very last, almost ceremonial, act was to close and lock the doors followed by affixing a special security seal that we would only remove again in America. 
The next time these pair will be together is on the other side of the Pacific Ocean!

Time for one final photo call...Kudo-San, Norman, Roxy and the Nippon Express 'Stuffers'
All boxed up and ready to go, I couldn't resist taking a marker pen and signing a small GYROX label on the front door….almost as proof to myself that it would definitely be the same box that would arrive at the other end!!    
Norman gets the job of sealing the container

Kudo-San double checks and it is time to start then next chapter.
The Aircraft's journey across to America was slightly convoluted, as is the vagaries of international shipping routes…First, a small feeder container vessel took our box from Sakata Port, Yamagata Prefecture, Japan, directly to the large international hub seaport of Busan in South Korea, then from Busan it was a direct sailing across the North Pacific to Tacoma Port near Seattle. From there our box was trucked by road some 200 miles south to arrive at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon. (just south of Portland). The Museum very kindly offered to put Roxy on temporary display over the winter period and this proved to be a great help in the ongoing and ever present logistics of keeping the aircraft both Secure and Airworthy at all times…there surely cannot be many lucky Gyros that find themselves in hangers that are not only strictly Temperature and Humidity controlled, but also in the company of some of the world’s most iconic aircraft, including the huge Howard Hughes ‘Spruce Goose’ Hercules flying boat, a fine example of a B17 Flying Fortress, an X-15 Rocket plane and a Mach 3 Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird (one of only 32 that were ever produced).    
The container with Roxy inside, arriving at the Evergreen Air and Space Museum
The Arrival

I arranged to meet the Container as it was delivered to the Museum; however my plans were a little compromised by a delay in Customs clearance entering the USA at Tacoma. Customs, in their wisdom, decided to hold onto our box to conduct a random x-ray check using a huge machine that can scan the contents of a whole container without opening it…However, soon enough, after several extra days delay, the sight of our box arriving on the back of a big American haulage truck soon brought a smile to our faces. The next immediate problem we faced was how exactly to get the aircraft out of the box again!

When we loaded in Japan, we had the advantage of having the Container down on the ground. It was comparatively easy (apart from the limbo dance element) to simply roll the aircraft up a slight incline and into place. Now we were faced with a new dilemma, the box was now elevated, sitting high on the back of the road truck. One option would have been to rent a crane to lift the box down to ground level, but on further discussion with Terry, the resident ‘go to’ man and head ‘Fixer’ at the Museum, we opted for a slightly more creative approach. By strapping a small flatbed trailer onto the forks of the resident forklift truck we were able to construct a rough and ready form of ‘elevating platform’ on which to roll the gyro out at container level and lower gently to the ground. 
Where there's a will...

There's a way...Roxy is slowly lowered back to the ground.

A job well done!
As can be seen in the photos, all went very smoothly with the able assistance of the Truck Driver and 2 of Terry’s groundsmen crew. 

2 days of reassembly followed, to return the aircraft to flight worthy status and this was in turn followed by a comprehensive check flight around the open fields surrounding the Museum. 
Roxy starting to look normal again, especially with proper wheels back on.

Getting up high to affix the rotors, but still being dwarfed by Howard Hughes' behemoth!
All too soon it was time to roll Roxy into the 2nd of the two huge display halls at the Museum and with the Museum now closed to visitors for the day, we were able to line Roxy up for a few very exclusive photo shots with some of the other ‘residents’ before proudly placing her in her winter-time display spot…Roll on the Spring time again!!
The Hughes H-4 Hercules 'Spruce Goose' may dwarf Roxy but our little autogyro has flown 10,000+ more miles than her new neighbour.

Roxy stands proud next to a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

Roxy meets some impressive new friends...on the left is the nose of a F101 Voodoo, in the far corner is a F4 Phantom, hovering above that is a S61 Sea King and immediately behind the well traveled Gyro is P51 Mustang...and we mustn't forget the many space vehicles that make up the backdrop!

An enthusiasts dream...Roxy will be cuddling up to the world's fastest conventional aeroplane...the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird! 

There are many superlatives that can be said about the SR-71, but that is also true for our little friend Roxy :-)

Extremes...the world's furthest flying autogyro with the world's biggest single seat fighter (F101 Voodoo) both underneath the worlds fastest rocket powered aircraft, the amazing X-15 which reached 4,500 mph!

In Closing

I hope everyone has a very happy and fun filled festive season for the end of 2014…and with the difficulties of Russian Bureaucracy now safely behind us, I also hope that 2015 can finally be the year that we successfully complete the whole Gyrox Goes Global adventure.
When we started out on this Journey back in 2010, no one could have predicted the many twists and turns of how this Gyro-saga has finally played out across the surface of the globe. With the prospect of some very exciting and adventurous flying ahead (a record setting US Coast to Coast flight, followed by the first attempt of crossing the Atlantic Ocean by an Autogyro), I hope that everyone reading this can once more pick up again and follow the journey online, right through to the finish point back at Sandy Bay Playing fields, Larne Harbour, Northern Ireland.

Best Festive Wishes and a Happy New Year to all,


Norman and G-YROX/Roxy
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all of us at Gyrox Goes Global

Friday, December 26, 2014

All at Sea - Part One

At the time of writing, 'Roxy' has now voyaged on (rather than over) the high seas…encased in a steel box bound for the US West Coast….needless to say a lot has happened since our last update from Japan, as I will explain.

Early August, 2014, saw a concerted and very focused team effort by Russian flight planners, a Senior Far East Navigator and our own personal contact (Dmitry in Vladivostok) to secure the support and approval of no less than 8 Far East Russian airfields….The plan called for a routing that would need to use all of these stops en-route between exiting Japan and reaching across the Bering Sea to enter the USA via Alaska. In addition, at the same time the logistics of providing fuel along the route was also made viable. I was very heartened by the fact that all of the en-route airfields reported back as being very keen to see this World Record setting aircraft pass through their areas and the general level of support for the whole project in the region was very high. With all this careful additional preparation work in place, we felt that surely this time our submission to the Russian Civil Aviation Authority (FATA) would be successful at long last…
Norman even visited Vladivostok and made many new friends at the Flying Club there.
By mid-August 2014 however, we were given, yet again, the news that the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) had again failed to make any response about our most recent application to FATA. This latest setback came after 3 solid years of trying to reason, persuade, cajole, embarrass and moralise the FSB into giving some sort of reaction about our flight plans….For, at least with some sort of feedback, we would have then been given a chance to adjust our plans accordingly to meet any concerns that they would have had (although such was our thorough initial planning there could be little that they could really complain about). However the FSB, instead of giving a courteous/helpful response back to FATA, chose instead to simply ignore us all totally (as they have repeatedly done on every occasion for the last 3 years) and thus no response at all, good or bad, was given to the often repeated request to do so by their own Civil Aviation Authority. As the FSB acts as a statutory consultee, it then followed that no overall permission could possibly be given by FATA without first receiving some (any) sort of commentary from the FSB. 

Norman even enjoyed flying GA aircraft in Russia, something he was never allowed to do with Roxy.
It thus became (and remained) a stalemate situation, with the FSB seemingly content to simply say nothing, safe in the knowledge that no onward flight permission could be awarded to us while they did so….it could be viewed that perhaps this is a somewhat “creative” way to effectively say No, without actually having to say anything (or actually having to face the awkward task of conjuring up a good practical, aviation related reason as to why this very competent little aircraft, that has already flown half way around the world through 18 other consecutive countries, would suddenly be deemed incapable of crossing their so different 19th one…
Had we been given the benefit of an understandable, rational explanation for a refusal to give permission, then of course we could have wholly respected that decision and adjusted our own plans accordingly…or at least then been given a fighting chance to counter-argue our own case for subsequent flight approval. But that did not happen; the FSB just chose to continue to say nothing.

So, having spent 3 stationary years trying to extract some/any sort of civilized response from the powers that be, I eventually have had to take on the view that we could easily be made to sit and wait for a further 3 years (or more) and even perhaps be still no further on. I was forced therefore to make the very frustrating and unfortunate decision that I would have to abandon the hope of a full circumnavigation and to simply push onward again without the Russian Sector. 
The Vladivostok Flying Club show their thanks to Norman for visiting them.

Norman was more than happy to give talks to Russian schools about the Gyrox adventure and the children were looking forward to the arrival of our plucky adventurer.

In late August I therefore very reluctantly organised the shipment of Roxy over the Pacific Ocean by container vessel from Japan directly to the US west coast. This action of course terminated the full FAI circumnavigation flight record attempt.....and as you can appreciate, this has been very difficult for me to absorb having spent the best part of the last 6 years planning and making this whole attempt happen. 

However we are where we are, we cannot make the Russian Federal Security Service appear any more benevolent towards (or even remotely interested in) what must seem to them as a very insignificant and pointless activity. It is however a very sad day for all our Russian supporters and aviation enthusiasts who are denied all the fun and excitement of seeing a World Record being attempted right on their doorsteps. Sad too for all the other Russian Agencies who, by the indifference and tactlessness of one powerful agency lurking in their midst, are then made to appear wholly powerless and ineffectual in carrying out their own, more accommodating, inclusive and supportive good works. It’s also an especially sad day for the Federation Aeronautique Internationale and FAI endorsed World Record aviation attempts in general; no longer can a Record attempt be solely timed and measured against the basic challenges of aircraft/pilot versus the natural, simple elements of the worlds geography, weather and climate…, rather, in our case at least, the fickle whims, spirit sapping bureaucracy and wholly restrictive indifference of a small but powerful section of one of the major countries in the world seems to call all the shots and all seemingly in the name of Federal “security”. It is surely a sign, conversely, of much “insecurity” that a countries ruling security elite feels it has to act in such a defensive “stick your head in the sand” type of manner…stand up Russia and allow yourself to engage in proper international sporting and record setting competition…How can a small, quirky little aircraft flying an officially sanctioned and recognised FAI Circumnavigation Record attempt ever have shown cause or good reason to become a “security” threat?? And if it is not a Security threat then why oh why has The Russian Federal Security Service not simply made the all so necessary comment that it actually has no real objections to the flight going ahead….

So, while I leave Mr Putin to ponder his next best diplomatic move…I simply draw inspiration from the fact that at least I am still in a far, far better place than I was when first diagnosed with Bowel Cancer back in 2003....everything else compared to that is obviously a huge bonus, even just to be here at all!! 
So, with that optimistic, positive attitude restored to my mind I then set about planning the next phase of the expedition, to move the aircraft physically (and me mentally) beyond the Russian impasse and set us up for the continued onward (and homeward) journey. 


Norman and Roxy at Shonai Airport where she has been based for 3 years awaiting permission to move on

                                                                * * * * * * 
The second part of this blog update will appear tomorrow and will detail the way Roxy left Shonai after 3 years stuck there waiting for permission to continue the quest. The 2nd part will also detail where Roxy is now...and if you don;t know then you are in for a big surprise! 
And finally we will give details on how the Gyrox Goes Global adventure will finally be returning home to Larne in Northern Ireland...over 5 years after this tiny but determined autogyro with her equally determined and brave pilot lifted off from Larne in 2010.

The Gyrox Team