Businessman to circle globe in a gyrocopter

Irish entrepreneur plans to travel 27,000 miles in tiny aircraft

Whatever you say about the man, his little yellow flying machine hardly attracts the word "magnificent". It is so small and light that if you want to move it across land all you need do is lift its nose and start walking.

Norman Surplus, an Irish businessman, is proposing to get into his little yellow autogyro and fly it round the world, taking him over deserts, mountains, oceans, and some of the most remote places on the globe. The total journey will be 27,000 miles, including 4,400 across water.

The risks are obvious. It is less than two months since Martin Bromage, an experienced solo flier, set off in a light aircraft intending to fly to Australia, but drowned a few hours later when he hit bad weather near France.

Mr Surplus intends to take his light craft, which is does not have a roof, across the Saudi desert, the Pacific Ocean, the Rocky mountains, and the North Atlantic. If he gets home safely, it will be the first-ever round-the-world flight in an autogyro – a type of craft that looks like a miniature helicopter but operates more like a fixed wing aircraft.

Mr Surplus insists he is prepared for anything, including the engine failure high above the ocean or the desert.

"You can cross Saudi Arabia by road, so I will follow the line of the road. You can land this craft on a narrow drive and, unlike a helicopter, even if the engine fails the rotor blades keep rotating, so it is quite easy to land," he said. "Over the ocean, obviously, there is a bigger problem, because there is nowhere to land unless there happens to be a ship. The most dangerous moment is when you hit cold water, because it is liable to be debilitating, but that is when you need to act quickly.

"If I'm going to hit water, I will try to go in tail first. The rotor blades will snap off, and the machine will be like a canoe, except it will float for only a few minutes. Flying, I will have my left hand on the clutch, but if there is no engine I will have no clutch, so my left hand will reach under the seat for the lifeboat.

"I have had extensive training in this, because I am a part-time lifeboat cox."

Mr Surplus will set off on Thursday from Larne, Antrim, and cross Europe, the Middle East, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Russia, Japan, the USA, Canada, Greenland and Iceland. He aims to be home in July. He has timed it to avoid the monsoon season in India, and to cross the Atlantic in the mild summer weather.

He has had to take a huge detour to avoid China, where there is too much military airspace. He will be alone all the way apart from 11 days spent flying over the Russian far east, when he will be obliged to have a Russian guide as his back-seat passenger.

He thinks of it as 115 consecutive trips, because every evening he will have to land to feed, sleep and refuel.

The director of the B9 Energy group, based in County Antrim, which specialises in clean energy, 47-year-old Mr Surplus has had one near-death experience already. In 2003, he was diagnosed with cancer. "The trip is designed to promote hope and encouragement for cancer sufferers across the globe. I want to say there can be life worth living beyond the very real challenges of cancer treatment."

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