I first came across the name Norman Surplus when a ferry pilot and friend of mine, Peter Kelsey, contacted me through Facebook. A few months earlier we had offered our assistance to a microlight pilot who was due to transit through Egypt, who unfortunately suffered a fatal accident whilst crossing the English Channel. Martin Bromage was the brave and sadly missed pilot and it was a shame that we could not offer him our help in Egypt. I say ‘we’ because although I am a British ex-pat who has been living in Egypt for 3 years, I have a good friend called Ahmed Hassan Mohamed, who like me is an aviation enthusiast and in fact works in the aviation industry in Cairo, and ‘we’ have joined together to share our hobby and that is why we became involved with Peter Kelsey.
It was in March 2010 when Peter contacted me and told me of a guy who was planning to fly around the world in an autogyro and he wondered if we could offer any assistance to him when he arrived in Egypt. We of course said yes and immediately set about contacting Norman Surplus and his support team to offer our help. The run up to his arrival was spent trying to get local media involved and arranging for one of our aviation friends, Ahmed El Heity, in Alexandria to meet Norman on his arrival there. When he did arrive at Alexandria he was able to phone me and he let me know that he would fly to October Airport, a small desert aerodrome, 15km from October City and about 40km from where we lived, refuel, meet the press and then fly on to Luxor. Needless to say, we were a bit disappointed with this news as we had wanted to spend a bit more time with Norman and hear about his adventures. But even so, we arranged transport for the following day and prepared for an early start, happy in the knowledge that Norman was safely on the ground in Egypt and enjoying the hospitality of the Alexandria Aero Club.
The following morning, 6th April 2010, our transport arrived, a nice air conditioned 4×4, and Ahmed and I set off for October airport. Anyone who has driven across Cairo can imagine how long and frustrating this journey can be and we were worried all the time that we would not arrive in time to see Norman land. But when we eventually arrived at the main security gate at October Airport, a quick call to my girlfriend, Anthea, who was back at home following Norman on the Spot Tracker, let us know that he hadn’t even departed Alexandria yet! (We later found out this was due to bureaucracy at Alexandria Airport).
So we hung about for an hour, getting strange looks from the security guards, until finally we were allowed into the control tower where the two controllers (friends of Ahmed) offered us food and drink whilst we waited. But the wait was worth it as Norman’s broad Irish twang came over the radio asking for permission to land. I quickly set my camera’s up and started to video a small yellow dot that glided down from the south. In no time at all, the now familiar sight of the large black letters ‘G-YROX’ were visible as the red suited pilot floated his mount towards the ground.
It was quite a sight to see the yellow Gyro land on a sixpence with zero forward roll. Norman was asked to taxi to the apron and find the office to sort out the paperwork. Me and Ahmed said our thank you’s to the ATC’s and made our way to greet Norman when he came through the small terminal. But 30 minutes later and no sign of him. Ahmed went to find out what was happening and a little while later appeared with Norman, the paperwork officials had been very slow, but at least he was now free!
Norman knew that he had to get to the press conference, have something to eat, find a gas station selling 95 Octane petrol and get back to the airport in time to reach Luxor before dark. So following the slow red tape in the terminal and then a hold up trying to get out of the airport (everything was checked and logged to make sure Norman wasn’t going to sell anything?) the fast desert road journey back to October City gave hope that we would still do it.
We had arranged to have the press interviews at the local McDonald’s and this meant Norman could eat whilst answering questions. There were reporters and cameramen from two magazines there to interview him and this meant of course, two interviews and two photo sessions. Whilst this was going on our driver came to me and told me that he had another appointment and had to leave! There was nothing we could do, so as he drove off our little group stood dumbfounded on the pavement with a small mountain of Norman’s equipment, including the massive fuel bag!
But this is Egypt and in no time at all (about one minute) Ahmed had hailed a taxi and negotiated a price to acquire the drivers services for the rest of the journey, including carrying the fuel in the boot/trunk of the taxi. So still roughly on schedule we set off for the petrol station closest to the airport only to find when we arrived that it didn’t have 95 Octane. Norman did a quick call back to home base in Ireland to see if the Rotax engine on the Gyro could run on a mixture of different octane fuels whilst Ahmed phoned his friends back in the control tower to see if they could help. They knew of a petrol station that sold 95 octane and guess what, it was just around the corner from where we had been earlier at the McDonalds!
A super fast drive back to where we had been half an hour earlier had the fuel bag filled with 95 octane and Norman was amazed at how cheap it was. Stocking up with snacks from the forecourt shop and then a super fast drive back to the airport (during which Norman gave Ahmed an interview) had us believing that we would have Norman on his way to Luxor in no time at all…but!
Little did we know that the dreaded red tape was about to get worse than when Norman arrived. It started at the main security gate where everything had to be checked against the log of items taken on leaving. Passports (even mine) had to be photocopied and checked and the fact that we had a new driver had to be explained. Through the main gate saw us arrive at the gate that takes you airside. Everything was unloaded from the taxi and carried through the gate to the apron. But G-YROX was parked some way away and this meant Norman had to walk over to the Gyro, start her up and taxi back to where we were. Then a combined effort had the Gyro packed and the fuel bag in place.
All Norman had to do now was go into the terminal, pay the fees and file his flight plan. But once again, Bureaucracy reared its ugly head and the wait started all over again. Documents had to be stamped but the stamp was in a locked safe and to open the safe a new document had to be filled in. Then they worked out that because Norman’s flight was for charity they would give him a discount on the fees. Norman was really happy with this and as he started to get suited up ready to depart one of the officials came out and said that they had decided to not offer a discount and he had to go back in and pay the full fees and fill out the new revised forms! By the way, this airfield is in the desert with very little shade and it was near to midday.
But eventually, red tape behind him, Norman finished getting kitted out and mounted the Gyro. A few last words from me and Ahmed and some photos taken secretly (there were signs saying ‘no photos’ everywhere) and it was time for Norman to taxi out. We watched as he took the Gyro down a pedestrian walkway and then lined up on the taxiway. We were amazed that it looked like he was going to use this as the runway! But he didn’t move…What we didn’t know is that ATC couldn’t give him permission to leave as Cairo Air Traffic Control hadn’t given permission to fly as he had added a new diversion airport to his flight plan (Assyut) and this meant it was a ‘New’ flight plan and had to be submitted again.
Me and Ahmed were still none the wiser as we stood outside the terminal waiting for Norman to depart. Little did we know at that time that Norman was in deep discussion over the radio with the tower and eventually was given permission to leave. At this time a large van decided to park across the taxiway, right were Norman was due to take off! It was then that our jaws dropped when we saw Norman turn off the taxiway and make his way back to the hardstanding where the Gyro had been parked earlier. We saw him cut the engine, dismount and unpack his gear. He then covered the cockpit and engine with special covers he carries with him, and then made his way back to us.
To Norman we must have looked bewildered but he soon explained that the rising toll of delays meant that he may not have reached Luxor before dark. Being a Visual Flight Rules (VFR) pilot this meant that he wasn’t allowed to fly at night and wasn’t really equipped for flying in the dark. He asked if he could take us up on our previous offer to host him in Cairo and of course we were delighted to say yes. A quick phone call home to alert Anthea that we were going to have a visitor after all and then we followed Norman into the terminal for…more red tape.
When asked when he would be departing, Norman told them that he would be flying out the next day. ‘Not possible’ was the reply! It turned out that the whole airport shut down on a Wednesday and Norman would not even be able to enter the grounds let alone fly out until Thursday. Although me and Ahmed looked disappointed for Norman, inside we were very happy as this meant even more time to spend with this brave aviator.
Red tape finished with we left the terminal where a small group of students from the Egyptian Aviation Academy (based at October) greeted Norman. Photos taken and it was time to drive to my home. This was a 2 hour journey in which Norman’s eyes were lit up as he marveled at all the sights he was seeing in this, the largest and most crowded city in Africa. He was also amazed by the crazy driving in the busy streets of Cairo as well as the everyday goings on of the general populace. But after dropping Ahmed off near his home (he had to do a nightshift that night) we finally arrived at my apartment. After introducing Anthea and our cats to Norman and a re-telling of today’s adventures, Norman was shown his room and Anthea collected any washing he needed doing. A quick debate on what we would do whilst Norman was here was followed by some ‘Skype’ calls to his family and support team and then a quick catch up with his diary in which he is keeping a written account of his journey.
The first port of call for Norman during his stay with us was an evening at the British Community Association (BCA) club.
The club serves fine food and Norman picked the Fajitas, which arrived on a red hot lava plate, spitting and smoking! Along with flat breads and salads Norman really enjoyed this experience. He washed it all down with more than one (who was counting) Sakara’s. This is the local Lager and really quite nice.
Being a Tuesday, the club was not crowded but Norman was able to say hello to some other ex-pats from a number of countries. David Browett, a friend of ours, sat with us and was eager to hear about Norman’s adventures. A bit later we were joined by Derek Currie, an ex-pat who was also editor of ‘Safari’ magazine, a Middle East adventure based mag. He was interested in running an article on Norman’s journey and between us we arranged for this to be done in the near future.
At one stage Norman had a phone call from home and I guess he was asked what the BCA was like and he replied…’Just the same as an English pub’. I am not sure if that was a compliment, lol. But all good things must come to an end and around midnight it was time to go, it was to be an early start the next day. Norman said his goodbyes to customers and staff who all wanted their photo taken with Norman, and then we took a taxi back home.
Our taxi drive home was a highlight as the driver was crazy and the speeds were unbelievable. Norman had a massive grin on his face either because he thought it was great fun or he was hiding the thought that we were going to die! At one point the driver asked Norman where he was from and he replied Ireland. The driver smiled and said ‘I like Ireland…especially London’. Guffaws all round.
Wednesday arrived very early, especially after a night on the Sakara’s. But our driver, Karim, the same guy we had picked up outside of McDonalds, arrived on time and we, Norman, Anthea and me, set off for the Great Pyramids at Giza. Another entertaining drive through Cairo had us arrive at the Pyramid complex close to the Sphinx. Norman made a quick phone call home and even took the chance to switch the ‘Spot’ tracker on, and then we were climbing the causeway to the Pyramid plateau.
Even before reaching the plateau we and especially Norman, were being hassled by the hundreds of hawkers and opportunists. It’s easy to let this kind of thing ruin your trip to the Pyramids but I think having a sense of humour helps and Norman was able to take these irritations in good humour. I think he actually enjoyed being hassled by so many camel drivers trying to get him to ride one.
Reaching the plateau, where the massiveness of the Pyramids become obvious, our first stop was a small Mastaba (small tomb) where we actually forgot about the many notices telling us to not take photos and to stay behind the line, and defiantly (sic) climbed down a very small and tight tunnel into the actual burial chamber. Norman loved this experience, especially seeing that the masses of tourists outside didn’t seem to know about this little gem.
Our next stop on the Giza plateau was the Solar Boat Museum. I thought Norman would like this, seeing he is also a keen yachtsman and of course, Lifeboat Coxswain. And I wasn’t wrong. Norman was amazed by this genuine 4,500 year old funerary barge used for carrying the body of the Pharaoh up the Nile. The size of it and the construction techniques were unbelievable!
After the Solar Boat it was time to trek around the Pyramids themselves. This in itself is quite a task especially considering the heat from the Saharan sun. Norman did climb up the Great Pyramid of Cheops (Khufu) to the entrance to the tomb but declined going in as the queue was massive and we had found our own tourist-free tomb earlier.
We did manage to find a small area, near the corner of the Pyramid, where there were no tourists and thankfully no hawkers, and here Norman clambered up the corner of the Pyramid for a photo shoot and also to add to his diary the thoughts coursing through his brain at that moment.
Deciding it was time for refreshments we made our way down the causeway to the gateway that took you out onto the ancient streets of Giza. The nearest visible refreshment stop was a Bedouin styled cafe opposite the main gate and because of the heat we decided to give it a go. Ushered upstairs to an open area with a tent-like covering we were amazed to see that we were the only customers there and the view was fantastic! There stood the Pyramids and the Sphinx, a great backdrop to our lunch.
After refreshments and a small wander around the back streets, we found our driver, Karim, who had been patiently waiting for our return. He duly transported us to our next destination…The Khan El Khalili in the centre of the oldest part of Cairo. Not knowing how long we would be we decided to let the driver go but not before thanking him and confirming his return to pick us up the next day to go back to the airport.
The Khan El Khalili is the largest Souk in the world and has been a market and meeting place for nearly 2000 years. All the ancient trade routes intersected here and the names of the roads mirror that fact. Tentmakers Street and Camel Traders street for example. It is made up of a maze of narrow alleyways and streets in which thousands of merchants vie for your trade. It has dedicated ‘areas’ where different trades are centered. From the spice market and Egyptian cotton market through to the many stalls and shops selling tourist souvenirs, it is a bright, colourful, aromatic and very noisy place to visit.
We wandered around the Khan for hours (and probably only saw a small percentage of it) and Norman was in his element as he used the Chest-Cam (worn on his chest whilst flying to video the journey) as a hand held video-cam to chronicle the sights and sounds of this amazing place.
A mid afternoon stop at a well known restaurant in the heart of the Khan had Norman tucking into Koshari again amidst ‘authentic’ Egyptian decor and waited on by staff in 19th century Egyptian attire. Following the meal we wandered some more alleyways before having a final coffee break in the famous El Fishawy Cafe.
El Fishawy is the most famous place in the Khan. It has been run by the same family since it opened 200 years ago and claims that it has never shut, opening 24/7 for two centuries! A favourite destination for tourists and locals alike, it is a must see place. Norman soon found out why as we sat at our table in the narrow cafe with its vintage decor. Its claim to fame, besides its history, is the continuous line of hawkers visiting each table with their wares. Offering everything from fantastic Henna Tattoos and Egyptian cotton items to very cheap cigarettes, handmade leather goods and ‘genuine’ Rolex watches.
Norman seemed to be in a state of awe by this time but did manage to decline all the goodies on offer, that was until a guy arrived offering to polish Norman’s boots. Norman agreed to this as his boots were by now covered in half of the Sahara desert, but he wasn’t prepared for what happened next. The boot polisher, resplendent in his galabaya, took one of Norman’s boots off and then promptly disappeared out of the cafe and down a side alley. Of course, me and Anthea were laughing at Norman’s bemused look and told him to be patient and guaranteed that the guy would return. And true to form, not long after, the boot-polisher returned with a very shiny boot. Now it was time for Norman to follow the boot-polisher out of the cafe and he too was taken down a small alley. Me and Anthea weren’t expecting that but our concerns soon vanished as Norman returned wearing two sparkling clean boots.
By now, time was moving on and it was time to get back to the apartment. We made our way out of the Khan and found the main road were a line of taxis awaited. But first Norman took some time out to video a little group of stray dogs, going about their business whilst hundreds of people went about theirs. both oblivious to each other.
A taxi was hired in no time and we took the long ride home through the crazy Cairo traffic again. Not long after arriving back home Ahmed arrived. This was fortuitous as Norman had decided to spend the night preparing for the next day’s flight. Ahmed, who has many contacts in Egyptian aviation, was able to work with Norman in sorting out a new flight plan and other aviation related topics. I kept busy with emailing the support team back in Ireland and uploading the photos and videos taken earlier that day.
Anthea sorted Norman’s washing out and kept the refreshments coming and we had our first quiet moment together when Ahmed took Norman off in a taxi to try and find the right weight engine oil for the Gyro. This was a successful hunt and not long after their return it was decided to have an early night seeing we knew how busy the following day was going to be.
An early rise on Thursday morning saw Anthea making a packed lunch of Cheese and Tomato sandwiches, Bananas, soft drinks and water for Norman’s journey as well as refreshments for the rest of us. Ahmed arrived early with updated weather reports and Notams for Norman and just after that the driver arrived, on time yet again. Karim certainly was a great find back at McDonalds on Tuesday.
A couple of things that were decided the night before included the need to fly straight to Aswan and miss Luxor out. The entry permission into Saudi Arabia made it clear that he had to arrive on Friday and it was evident that he needed to get to his Egyptian departure point of Aswan in good time to have an early start on Friday. Because of this it was also decided to buy extra fuel to make sure he had the range to reach Aswan. One problem though. The fuel bag was still on the Gyro back at October Airport.
A word with our driver soon had this sorted as he took us to a road side garage where we bought a couple of 20 litre used petrol cans which the staff at the garage cleaned out for us. A speedy ride followed to the same 95 octane garage from our fill up on Tuesday and then an easy 15 minute drive to the airport.
One of the main reasons for our 5.30am wake-up and 7.30am departure from the apartment was because the officials at October Airport had informed Norman that if he hadn’t departed the Airfield by 12 noon then he would have to pay a full extra day charges! So the clock was running. Anthea had joined us for our return to the airfield and she was excited to see G-YROX in real life. And even though we told her about the problems we had at the main gate on Tuesday, we actually sailed through relatively quickly this time. They had got to know us by now.
Arriving at the gate to the apron we knew the drill and unloaded the taxi, finding some shade for the petrol cans and equipment, but then it started. An official arrived and told us we had entered the airside part of the airfield through the wrong gate and made us carry all the equipment back through the gate we had used, walk about ten yards to another entrance and take the equipment through there, ending up back where we started…stupid or what?. We didn’t even have to sign anything or be checked out. It was just another case of sticking to the rules.
Norman went out to the Gyro and uncovered her, started her up and taxied back to where we were waiting. We now went into action as we filled the oil reservoir (a fiddly job), topped up the main fuel tank which was made trickier as the filler cap was at shoulder height and as Anthea got the job of holding the filter/funnel she acquired a new perfume…petrol…as it overflowed and dripped down her arm. Finally it was time to load the Gyro, secure the fuel bag and find crevices to store all the new items Norman had acquired, including his packed lunch. With very little space available, Norman declined the sandwiches and opted for the bananas and water.
As this was all going on Ahmed had been busy sorting out the paperwork with the officials whilst all the time back at the Gyro there were two security guards intently watching us from 6 feet away. We had been told that we could not take photographs or videos but as you can see, we found a way to do it anyway. It was a bit hypocritical as various security guards and office staff came out to be photographed by each other standing next to the Gyro. Then Ahmed appeared out of the office with a look on his face that made our spirits drop. Apparently the officials at October Airport hadn’t received the flight plan from Cairo Airport therefore; Norman wouldn’t be allowed to fly. We thought that this was a ruse to keep him there until after noon so as to get more money from him but even so this wasn’t an option because if he couldn’t reach Aswan today he wouldn’t be able to fly onto Saudi Arabia the following day.
Then came another delay as the old nemesis, landing fees, arrived. The same old story of discount for charity flights continued until the hoped for discounts were…discounted and full charges were levied. The fact that Norman needed $5 change took forever to find, and safe’s had to be opened and documents filled to open the safe. It became my job to chase the $5 change and I was taken into various rooms to watch documents be stamped, the ritual of the Stamp being documented and returned to the safe and then finally receiving a $5 note. Although I was asked if I wanted a cup of tea whilst I waited, all I wanted was $5 change! I signed on the dotted line and was given the important piece of paper saying that Norman had paid all his charges and I was out of there.
Returning back to our group, who were slowly baking in the approaching midday sun, I learnt that there was still no news and no permission to fly. 12 o’clock was fast approaching and Ahmed decided to call in a favour. He raced to the control tower were his friends worked and seeing that although the officials seemed to have ultimate power on the airfield, in fact the real power on the airside of the terminal was held by the ATC guys in the control tower. Ahmed told them of the problems and verbally recited Norman’s flight plan to them. They then contacted Aswan and recited the same message and…permission to fly was given!
Ahmed rushed back with the news and we were jubilant! Norman finished off getting his suits and helmet on and after a round of handshakes and farewells got into the cockpit, started up and with a wave and a smile taxied out, away from the terminal.
A quick look at the time saw it was fast approaching 11:55am, 5 minutes to go! We watched Norman make his way to the main taxiway, which he was going to use as a runway, face into wind and after a few engine run ups and also a few choice words from us, such as ‘Come on Norman, look at the *&%#y time’, the engine note changed and the little yellow autogyro whizzed down the taxiway, lifting off as it passed our position. Norman leaned out and waved a final goodbye as we waved back. We wished him luck and of course, secretly filmed all the action.
Norman’s departure time? 11:57am…3 minutes to spare. But Norman’s experience with Egyptian regulations didn’t end there as he left the ground behind. He was informed over the radio that he couldn’t leave the airport perimeter until he had reached 8,500ft altitude! This was the cross country flight level that was enforced in Egypt and because of the nearness of some restricted airspace/military installations; he needed to be that high before continuing southwards.
On the ground we watched on with growing curiosity as Norman didn’t seem to want to leave as he circled October Airport over and over for about 15 minutes. (We found out later what had happened). But eventually, he turned south, and probably glad that he had topped up with the extra fuel bought earlier that day, and headed off on the next leg of his journey. We returned home, gave our thanks to Karim, our driver, for his amazing loyalty and work rate over the last 3 days, and then we settled down to follow the rest of the days flight on the Spot tracker.
Is that were my story ended? Far from it. Of course, like most people who have had the pleasure to meet Norman along the way, I became an avid follower of his journey. Tuning into the Spot Tracker each day, commenting on his blog posts and Facebook comments; concerned when he was late or seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and happy to see him safely on the ground at the end of each leg.
But my story went a little bit further. Because of my assistance to Norman and my continued enthusiasm for the flight I became more and more involved with the support team. To this extent I was able to assist in the background in a number of ways, mainly by decreasing the workload for the support team in a number of areas. I also collaborated with Derek Currie on the Safari magazine article but it was a sad day (the day before publishing) when I was informed that the magazine had ceased to exist and our article, although ready for publishing, would not see the light of day. I did get a copy of the article and posted it on Norman’s Facebook wall, so it did make it to the real world after all.
Is that it then? No, not at all. As can be expected from Norman, he took the time to contact Peter Kelsey to tell him how happy he was with our efforts to assist him. Although pre-revolution Egyptian bureaucracy was an ever present headache to Norman whilst in Egypt he was glad that we, and the guys in Alexandria, had given him the chance to meet the ‘normal’ people and experience the warm hearted nature and hospitality that was a complete contrast to the treatment he had received from the officials.
It was midsummer 2010, whilst Norman was repairing the Gyro in Thailand, that peter Kelsey suggested to me that we ought to offer our services to other pilots visiting Egypt. This suggestion led to a meeting with Ahmed and G.A.S.E was born. General Aviation Support Egypt was our new baby. A way to help pilots make their way through Egyptian bureaucracy and also enjoy the Egyptian experience. Barring the period when Egypt was in the middle of a revolution, me and Ahmed, in the form of GASE have been helping pilots visit or transit Egypt ever since.
We hope and expect GASE to grow and promote the new face of General Aviation in Egypt to the world, encouraging more pilots to risk crossing the short gap across the sea to sample this wonderful country and meet its people. And this is all because of Norman’s time with us. He instilled the notion in us that anything is possible and if you want it then it’s up to you to make it happen. All we (me, Ahmed, Anthea, Alex guys, BCA patrons, pilots throughout Egypt and aviation enthusiasts everywhere) can say is ‘Thank you Norman for deciding to make this journey and especially for picking Egypt as one of your many destinations’.
Many happy landings in the future
Eddie, Anthea and Ahmed
Follow Norman’s continuing adventure this spring by going to one of these links…
http://www.gyroxgoesglobal.com/ (website) – http://gyroxgoesglobal.blogspot.com/ (Norman’s blog) – http://www.facebook.com/pages/GyroxGoesGlobal/143540602375581?sk=info (Facebook page) – http://twitter.com/GyroxGoesGlobal (Twitter)