Cancer survivor's record bid gets off to flying start
An entrepreneur who beat cancer will lift off today on an epic bid to become the first person to fly around the world in a gyrocopter.
Norman Surplus (47) will wave goodbye to his wife and two young children as he flies away in the lightweight aircraft, also known as an autogyro, from a playing field in his hometown of Larne, Co Antrim.
While he has an arduous four months of solo travel ahead, Norman has already completed a remarkable journey to even get to the start.
Five years ago, his outlook was bleak when he was diagnosed with cancer. But after months of treatment, he defeated the disease and is now intent on breaking a world record to raise money for cancer research.
"Before I got cancer, I had never done anything like this," he said.
"And then when I was recovering after surgery and chemotherapy at the Belfast Cancer Centre, I saw this programme about someone restoring an autogyro on one of those daytime television shows.
"That's when I had the idea for this expedition.
"Part of this is to raise funds and awareness for cancer charities but hopefully it will also encourage people who are in the position today that I was in.
"Five years ago, my future looked very grim but five years on things are completely different. That's a nice thought to be able to have."
No one has ever managed to circumnavigate the globe in the flimsy predecessor to the modern-day helicopter.
"It's a very small aircraft that was popular in the 1930s that I suppose is most famous for an appearance in the James Bond film 'You Only Live Twice'," he said.
"It's the only type of aircraft in the world that hasn't made it round the world. Someone tried in 2005 but he was stopped by a monsoon in India."
With his schedule timed to avoid rainy season in the sub-continent, he will fly from east to west round the globe, hoping to land back in Larne some time in mid-July.
"I'm planning to do about 300 miles a day.
"But with adverse weather and hold-ups in bureaucracy trying to get permissions to land, it will be hard to keep to a strict timetable," he said.
On top of the fundraising, Norman, who is joint director of a renewable energy company in Larne, hopes his journey will raise environmental awareness.
"The autogyro uses around a third of the fuel of a helicopter of the same size," he explained.
"So perhaps this can show you can get around the world without making much of a carbon footprint."
Norman still needs sponsors to help him complete the challenge. For details, email firstname.lastname@example.org.