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

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