The first gyrocopter to fly around the world piloted by an Antrim man

Norman Surplus & gyrocopter fly near Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The first rotary winged aircraft (called an Autogyro, Gyroplane or a Gyrocopter) flew in 1923, only 20 years after the Wright Brothers first took to the air.  In the intervening 96 years until 2019, the Autogyro remained the last fundamental Aircraft type to have never completed a flight around the world.

The first rotary winged aircraft (called an Autogyro, Gyroplane or a Gyrocopter) flew in 1923

Norman Surplus of Larne, Co Antrim originally took up that challenge in 2010 in an open cockpit version of the machine.  Starting in his home town he headed east across Europe, the Middle East, Indian Sub-continent and SE Asia crossing 18 countries (the final count was 32 countries after completing the full, unbroken, circumnavigation in 2019).  Unfortunately Norman got stuck in Japan as the Russian authorities would not allow his unusual aircraft into their airspace.

Norman began his adventure after recovering from a near death experience with cancer

Norman began his adventure after recovering from a near death experience with cancer.  During his recovery he set himself a goal of learning to fly a gyrocopter and the rest is history.  Maintenance and keeping such a small machine airworthy was a major challenge  not least because of two emergency landings and a ditching in a lake in SE Asia.  Also consider he had 130 stops crossing over in three continents, covering in total in excess of 27,000 miles (including 4,500 miles over water).  

Norman's gyrocopter Rotax 914 Turbo engine

Powered by a single a Rotax 914 Turbo engine, the 1600cc unit produces 115 horsepower.  The engine runs on either regular 95 Octane unleaded petrol (Mogas) and/or aviation grade 100 Octane Avgas.  The fuel system was modified especially for the world flight.  Normal fuel capacity tanks of 70 litres were supplemented by an additional 140 litre fuel bag from specialist company Turtle-Pac in Australia.  This gave the aircraft a range of 450 - 500 miles for a flight endurance of over seven hours flying time. 

Norman used 2x Garmin GPS units for navigation and airport information

Navigation used 2x Garmin GPS units - a knee mounted 695 primary unit and a panel mounted 496 as backup.  The 695 unit used navigation and airport information for the entire world stored on three interchangeable SD cards.

The gyrocopter engine and airframe had to be regularly serviced 

The engine and airframe had to be regularly serviced not least because of two emergency landings and a ditching in a lake in SE Asia.  This typically had happened every 100 flying hours and took place in India, Thailand, Philippines, Japan and USA.  Some services were completed by Rotax service centres and others by a UK CAA approved gyroplane service mechanic (who sometimes had to be flown out to Norman’s location).  There were also daily checks carried out by Norman of fuel tanks contamination (water ingress), oil and coolant levels, fuel and air filters and pumps.  He would also check pneumatic pressures (of rotor trim system and pre-rotator system), tyre pressures plus full and free movement of all mechanical linkages.
Norman on the way home flies over Narsarsuaq, Greenland on his way across the Atlantic

After waiting for three years and travelling back and forth to Japan, in 2014 Norman had still not received Russian permission and was forced to ship the gyrocopter to Oregon in the US.  From there in 2015, he flew across America and up into Canada with regular stops because of the aircraft range.  He then crossed the wild and dangerous North Atlantic, the first gyroplane ever to do so; island hopping via Greenland, Iceland, The Faroe Islands, Scotland and home to Co. Antrim.  

Media frenzy on arrival home to Larne, Co Antrim, N. Ireland

In 2019 Norman was finally allowed Russian permission and revisited to complete the last portion of his full circumnavigation.  He continued eastwards from Larne, over Europe and the entire Russian Federation, crossing the remote wilderness of the Russian Far East, the dangerous Bering Sea to Alaska, and then southwards through Canada and before finally reaching Oregon once again.  The complete unbroken circumnavigation from Oregon to Oregon had taken 9 years, at which point Norman had become the first person to physically fly a gyrocopter right around the world.

Since finishing in 2019, Norman has been writing a book - to be called "First Gyro” - describing his whole circumnavigation adventure. This is expected to be available, through online ordering, in late 2021.

Do you have an Irish made project old or new you would like us to feature? Email us here info@irelandmade.ie 

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