Airport serves as stop for global gyrocopter flight

Posted 7/3/19

James Ketchell has rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, summited Mount Everest and bicycled 18,000 miles around the world, but when he and fellow gyrocopter pilot Norman Surplus touched down at the Jefferson County International Airport June 26, it marked another achievement for both men.

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Airport serves as stop for global gyrocopter flight

Posted

James Ketchell has rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, summited Mount Everest and bicycled 18,000 miles around the world, but when he and fellow gyrocopter pilot Norman Surplus touched down at the Jefferson County International Airport June 26, it marked another achievement for both men.

For Surplus, it was his second-to-last stop on his second attempt to fly around the world in a gyrocopter, but for Ketchell, it was a little past the halfway mark in his first attempt at a world-spanning gyrocopter flight.

“It’s not my first time in America,” Ketchell said on the flight line, as Surplus made contact with customs personnel. “During my cycle around the world, I probably saw more of America than a lot of Americans have. But it is my first time here.”

After touching down together just outside of Port Townsend, the two pilots, both Brits, went their separate ways, with Surplus completing his global flight where he started, in McMinnville, Oregon, while Ketchell still has the rest of America and the Atlantic Ocean to cross, before returning to the UK in roughly two and a half months.

Ketchell set off March 31 on his attempt to circumnavigate the globe in a gyrocopter, traveling just shy of 23,000 miles in the process, but his journey started well before then.

“When I was a teenager, I was very lazy,” Ketchell said. “I had no motivation, which got me fired from several jobs. I had no direction and no confidence, until I found things I enjoyed doing.”

As a professional motivational speaker, Ketchell uses his own experiences to inspire younger people.

“We each have the potential to do what we want, if we focus and work hard,” Ketchell said. “Your brain can be your greatest ally and your worst enemy.”

As an example, Ketchell explained how much his global flight relies upon mental rather than physical labor.

“Flying the aircraft is the easiest part,” Ketchell said. “Every time we land, though, we have to find places to stay, sort out our fuel and check the weather for the next day, which are not simple tasks. This is a completely mental project, in that you always have to be planning the next steps ahead.”

Flying so many hours still takes a physical toll, which Ketchell and Surplus feel almost as soon as they land.

“When you’re in the air, you’re running on adrenaline,” Ketchell said. “When you’re on the ground, you relax and instantly feel exhausted. I had more energy at the end of every day when I was cycling.”

For these reasons and more, Surplus and Ketchell agreed it would have been next to impossible to attempt their respective global flights without considerable outside assistance.

“What I’ve found is that 99% of the people I’ve met, regardless of race or nationality, have been very kind in helping me out on my journey,” Ketchell said.

Ketchell includes Surplus in this category, since his flying partner had already attempted to circumnavigate the globe in a gyrocopter starting in 2010, but was thwarted in his efforts to complete his planned flight path when Russia restricted its airspace.

“I was stuck in Thailand for three months after I crash-landed there, but I kept going,” Surplus said. “When I found out Russia wouldn’t allow my flight in 2011, my aircraft was stuck in Japan for the next three years, until I shipped it to the aviation museum in McMinnville, where it was on display underneath the Spruce Goose. What a size disparity that was.”

Ketchell joined Surplus on his second attempt, so they could cross the now-open Russian airspace together.

“Norman’s journey was virtually over,” Ketchell said. “He very easily could have said no to me. Instead, he’s been very supportive.”

“The thing about Russia is that it’s very vast,” Surplus said. “There’s very little in the way of landing alternatives, because there’s lots of trees and almost no roads.”

Surplus appreciated having Ketchell as a companion during those isolated stretches, and when they landed in countries where they were among the few people who spoke English.

It ultimately took Surplus and Ketchell 17 flying days, spaced out over the course of a month, to cross Russia.

To follow the remainder of Ketchell’s journey, you can visit his site at:

jamesketchell.net

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