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Circumnavigating Autogyro Pilot Receives Warm Oshkosh Welcome
June 18, 2015 - “Wherever you go in the world, you can find a pilot and say ‘Oshkosh,’ and he’ll know just what that means,” Northern Irish pilot Norman Surplus said shortly after landing at Wittman Regional Airport on Saturday, June 13. And Surplus knows what he’s talking about; he’s currently about 80 percent of the way through a flight around the world in an MT-03 autogyro known as G-YROX, thanks to its UK registration.
Stricken with bowel cancer several years ago at the young age of 40, Surplus was inspired to do something big as he beat the disease. While he was hospitalized, he watched a documentary about the restoration of an autogyro and was captivated. Surplus took introductory flights in a fixed-wing airplane and a helicopter, but he knew he wouldn’t be satisfied until he’d flown an autogyro. It was love at first flight.
He began training, and decided very early on that he’d do more than just fly for fun; he was going to fly around the world to raise awareness for his designated charity, Bowel Cancer UK, inspiring other cancer patients, and anyone facing a similar challenge.
Surplus painstakingly planned a 27,000-mile flight through 26 countries in four months.
That was more than five years ago - March 2010.
Like any epic adventure, Surplus’ circumnavigation attempt hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. From struggling to find non-ethanol autogas in Aswan, Egypt, and carrying a 37-gallon fuel bladder through security at various airports to a ditching in Thailand that bent his rotor mast, Surplus has had more than his share of delays. The most frustrating slowdown occurred after he landed in Japan and sought permission to overfly Russian Federation airspace en route to Alaska.
He was hoping to start that leg in July of 2011. After more than three years of inaction, Surplus decided enough was enough and shipped G-YROX in a container to Oregon. From there, he’s worked his way across the United States, landing at smaller airports and spreading his dual messages of cancer survival and grassroots aviation.
“I just had to land in Oshkosh…it’s the holy grail of aviation,” Surplus said. Even though he arrived about five weeks early for EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, we did our best to give him the Oshkosh experience.
We took him through the museum where he got an up close look at the Pitcairn Autogiros in our collection, showed him around the convention grounds—“imagine if all of this were completely full of airplanes”—loaded him down with swag, and bought him his first fried cheese curds washed down with his first root beer at Oshkosh’s legendary Ardy & Ed’s Drive-In. It was a proud moment all around when Surplus added his “EAA Member” sticker to G-YROX’s nose.
While the setbacks from the Russian government mean he won’t be credited with a round-the-world flight without mitigation, Surplus has already set nine autogyro records under the auspices of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), but his biggest is yet to come.
It was only fitting that his museum tour happened on the 96th anniversary of Alcock and Brown’s historic flight across the Atlantic, and that Surplus spent a few moments that day sitting in one of EAA’s Spirit of St. Louis replicas. That’s because in just a few short weeks, Norman Surplus expects to become to the first person to pilot an autogyro across the Atlantic. Incredibly, it’s never been done in the category’s 92-year history and remains one of aviation’s last “firsts.”