Lives Remembered

Norman Surplus: Gentleman gyro pioneer was born adventurer

NORMAN Surplus's lifetime of adventure began even before he was born.

It was February 1963, the height of the 'Big Freeze' that gripped Ireland that terrible winter, and the worst blizzard in living memory had left Larne under feet of snow.

Nan Surplus was heavily pregnant with her third child and when the time came to go to hospital, her neighbours in Larne had to help dig a passage out from her home.

Norman would spend his whole life charting new paths and overcoming challenges, both in the business world and in his passion for exploration.

He circled the world for the first time as a video game designer, visiting every Grand Prix circuit to photograph the tracks before painstakingly recreating them digitally.

However, it was after overcoming cancer in the early 2000s that he set off on undoubtedly his greatest adventure, taking to the skies to go where no airman had gone before.

Nine years and 27,000 miles later, he succeeded in becoming the first person to circumnavigate the globe in a gyrocopter and earned the place in the record books his life so richly deserved.

Norman was the first person to circumnavigate the globe in an autogyro aircraft

As the son of a Merchant Navy captain, it was perhaps inevitable that he would pick up the travelling bug and his first journey was to England as a young boy when his family briefly relocated there.

When they returned Norman was educated at Larne Grammar School before developing an interest in outdoor pursuits on a college course in West Yorkshire.

His entrepreneurial spirit was immediately evident when he began working as a windsurfing instructor.

Always at home on the water, he would become second coxswain of the Larne lifeboat in 1994 and serve on rescue crews until his death.

Norman had a variety of jobs throughout his packed life, from making models out of pipe cleaners to designing simulations of Formula 1 races in the early years of video games with his brother-in-law Geoff Crammond.

He also set up a renewable energy company, B9 Energy, with brother David which was a pioneer in developing wind farms.

Passionate about the environment and nature, in his spare time he helped run outdoor programmes for children and adults and planted hundreds of trees outside Larne.

In 2003, at the age of 40, Norman received a devastating diagnosis of bowel cancer. He was given only a 40 per cent of survival beyond 18 months.

It was during chemotherapy treatment in hospital that he one day found himself watching a television documentary telling the story of a restoration of an autogyro.

Similar in appearance to a small helicopter, but with a self-propelling rotor which makes it cheaper and safer to fly, his interest was piqued when he learned that it was the only type of aircraft yet to fly around the world.

Norman Surplus in his 'motorbike in the sky'

And so he set himself a challenge that if he recovered from illness, he would try to make aviation history.

After learning to fly in England, Norman's first flight was the journey home across the Irish Sea.

In 2010 he then set off on the monumental task of flying solo and unsupported around the earth on his German-built MT-03 – his 'motorbike in the sky'.

The journey across 32 countries was completed in stages and not without a few hiccups, from harsh weather to a crash into a lake in Thailand.

The last leg involved a 5,000-mile crossing of Russia which saw him cover seven time zones before reaching landing at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in Oregon. USA.

Norman arrives back home in Larne. Picture by Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

As well as the incredible physical and technical achievement, Norman also raised awareness and funds for cancer charities and afterwards his autogyro went on proud display at the EAA Aviation Museum in Wisconsin.

He recently completed a book, First Gyro, telling the full story of his exploits which can be pre-ordered at

Norman was 59 when he died suddenly on April 19 following a suspected heart attack.

His wake and funeral brought home to his wife, Celia, and children, Felix and Petra, the enormous impact he made, not just in his public life but on all those he met through countless private acts of generosity.

In a Facebook post announcing his death, they said that "although he may have lived enough adventures to last several lifetimes, to those who crossed his path in life, he will always be remembered most for being a kind-hearted human who just wanted the best for people".

Hundreds of tributes posted from friends made around the world testified to his modesty, positivity and infectious smile – a gentleman and an inspiration to all who encountered him.

Norman is also survived by his brother David and sister Norah.

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Lives Remembered