Yakutsk has become one of the stopovers for avid travelers Norman Surplus and James Ketchell. Having started in mid-April in Northern Ireland on autogyros, they reached our republic after flying all over Europe and Russia. There is still half way ahead. Our editors could not miss the opportunity to talk with them.
- Please tell us about your journey.
Norman: My journey started in 2010, nine years ago. With the aircraft that I have here now. I myself come from Northern Ireland, near Belfast. I flew from Northern Ireland down through Europe across the Middle East, India, down through South-East Asia. I got to 1-degree north of equator, just north of Singapore, then I flew up through Borneo, Philippines and Japan. So I got to the north of Japan ready to go to Vladivostok. But at that time it was very difficult to fly this aircraft through the Far East of Russia. So I was stuck in Japan. And the aircraft had to stay in Japan for three years. I was asking the Russian part to get to Alaska but it didn’t work. After 3 years I put the autogyro into a shipping container and shipped it from Japan to Oregon on the West Coast of America. It was the only way to get over the Pacific Ocean without doing the Russian part. Unfortunately that was not good for my flying around the world because it was shipped and I didn’t fly it. So I rebuilt my aircraft in Oregon. In 2015 I flew from Oregon to Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Man on the East Coast, then up to Canada on east side, up into the Arctic Circle across the Greenland. And in the summer of 2015 I crossed the Atlantic: Greenland, Iceland, Faroe Islands. I finished in Scotland. So, I’ve flown around the world apart from Russia. I thought I had finished… But James came to see me three years ago and he had the idea to do that also. Then I set off again. We decided to fly Russia together. So I flew from Northern Ireland across the North of Europe to go to Estonia, then Russia, Pskov. I was to meet James; he was already there. So I met James in Moscow. From here we will fly to Alaska. Then Canada and back to America. I will finish in America. I will have gone from America to America. I will pass the baton to James, he then does the whole flight in a much more normal time. We hope that James will set the proper current record when he flies back to the UK.
James: I’ll start with some history. Ten years ago I raced motorbikes. I had a very big accident. I broke my legs and my back. I couldn’t walk for half a year. Ever since I was a young boy I had a dream to row a boat across the Atlantic Ocean. But I never had the guts to do it. When I was lying in hospital and the doctor told me I would not walk again I decided that I was going to walk again and to row across the Atlantic. Usually you do it with two people or four people, or maybe even eight. But no one would do it with me so I had to do it on my own. I only ever had a dream to row, I had no any other dream to do anything else. But I found out that I love adventure and when you push yourself out of your comfort zone and do something that you have not done before, good things will happen. During my preparation to row across the Atlantic I met someone who became a friend, and then I was invited to climb Mount Everest in 2011, a year after I had rowed the Atlantic. I did not know I could do it but knew I would regret it if I didn’t try. (It took me 110 days to cross the Atlantic). In 2011 I climbed to the top of Mount Everest. It was very difficult and on the way back down I had a lung in-chest infection that I nearly died. When I got home I spent two weeks in hospital recovering. When I was lying in hospital I decided that I would go cycling around the world. In 2013 I cycled 30,000 km around the world. In every country I passed through I spoke in a school, I spoke to 10,000 young people as I passed around the world encouraging them to pursue their own goals and dreams. When I got home from the bicycle trip (it took six months to go around the world) I became the only person on the planet that has done all three things. Very many people had rowed the Atlantic and other things, there’s 8 billion people on the planet and I am the only one who has done all three things. It’s only special to me, it’s not that big deal… In 2015 I attempted to row a boat across the Indian Ocean from Western Australia to Mauritius. But halfway across the boat rolled over in a very big storm and I was rescued.
And as Norman said, three years ago I got in contact with him because I’ve always had an interest in flying and I like to do things that are different, and gyrocopters are different. Then I learned how to fly and decided to fly around the world. The mission for me is to speak in a school in every country I pass through encouraging young children to believe in themselves and chase that dream and never let anybody tell them they cannot do something. Everything I do focuses around the young people and raising money for charities that look after young people that disabled.
When I had my motorbike accident I found out what it was like - not to be able to walk. It’s not very nice. But I got better. So I raise money for charities that help disabled children. This time I have spoken in three schools in Russia. And I have a school here on Monday (May 27). The reason why I do everything for young people is because when I was very young I had no confidence, I was very lazy, I left school with no qualifications, I didn’t believe in myself and I never ever thought I would be the only person on the planet to have done what I have done. I have written a book and now I’m flying around the world. So, if I can do that I feel like it’s my duty to encourage other young children, teenagers that maybe struggling, they don’t believe in themselves.
- How long have you been preparing for this trip?
I have been preparing for three years. It costs money to do this. And I don’t have lots of money. If you want to do something you have to find a way to make it happen. All the time, those three years, was spent trying to find sponsorship. I say to children, if you want something, there is always a way to do it.
- When have you started this flight?
Norman: I started this flight in the middle of April. We took off on May 1 from Pskov. The first landing in Russia was Pskov.
- What was the most memorable while flying over Europe, Russia?
I think, it was Lake Baikal. We flew over the north end of the lake. Another fascinating thing that we were very fortunate to be allowed to fly from the very west of the country to the very east. And to see all your people, all joined together as they go along. They look maybe slightly different in every part of the country. It is so big! And so many trees!
- How did you get to Yakutia? Where have you landed?
It was Taksimo in Buryatia. Each day we are flying about 300-400 miles. And we need a runway to land. It looks like a helicopter but it needs maybe 10 meters to land, and 50 meters to take off. Normally we look for smaller airports and airfields but we have been in very big airports also.
- What is going to be your next airport to land?
Tomtor, near Oymyakon, then Magadan, Anadyr, and Provideniya. And then Alaska, Nome. We look forward to the crossing to see the two islands, the Diomede Islands: the Big Diomede and the Little Diomede. One is Russian, another is American. This will be interesting. And also we will cross the deadline. So we’ll go back 24 hours getting an extra day.
One of our difficulty in flying across Russia has been all the time zones. We’ve had seven time zones and every few days we are losing an hour of sleep.
- What are your impressions of Yakutia?
Norman: This has been a very surprising stop. I didn’t really know what it would be like here. And it has been very interesting and welcoming place here. I think as you fly across Russia this area, in particular, feels like it has its own identity within Russia. And that the people here, I feel, are proud of their land.
James: It was an unscheduled stop; we were supposed to stop here for 24 hours. But it’s a very pleasant surprise – we are very grateful for the hospitality and the kindness forever more. We are lucky. You can only do this project, what Norman and I are doing, with the help of kind individuals, they want to help in everything. It’s the people that make a country. And the people here are wonderful.
As we fly along we have a satellite trekker on each aircraft. It is to allow people online to follow our journey around the world. And we have thousands of people who look on the web page to see how we are doing. It shows every two minutes as we fly along.
- Thank you very much! Have a very good flight!
Norman Surplus https://www.facebook.com/GyroxGoesGlobal-143540602375581/
James Ketchell https://www.instagram.com/ketchelljames/