His initial attempt may have ended in tears but Barry Jones is still intent on becoming the first man to fly round the world in an autogyro. Bill Bridge reports.
The decision was simple, and one Barry Jones had little difficulty in making, even though he knew it would signal the end of a dream which had monopolised two years of his life.
He was at an Indian Air Force base near the remote town of Guwahti in the flood-desolated north east of the sub-continent; the autogyro Golden Eagle which had carried him from England looked in pristine condition but was completely unable to fly.
The aircraft had been stored in a hangar to shelter from the worst monsoon to have hit India in 20 years and Jones, a Warrant Officer with 9 Regiment, Army Air Corps, based at Dishforth, near Boroughbridge, knew when he tried to power up the electronics that his dream was over.
Only the fuel gauge responded, the rest of the system had been wiped out by a three-foot flood which had swept through the hangar.
The Indians had been unable to halt the water but had later polished the aircraft in a futile gesture of support.
"Trying to repair the aircraft in Guwahti would have been totally impossible," said W/O Jones. "We simply couldn't get the required engineers, civil and military, out there and there was no question of transporting the aircraft back to Delhi by road.
"There was also the time factor. Even if we had managed to have it flown back to Delhi by transporter, we didn't know whether the repairs would take three days or three weeks and the expedition had to finish by Christmas at the latest. Then there was the cost, I reckon it would have taken up to 10,000 to get it all together.
"So I made the decision to abandon. I shed a tear or two – and me at 37. I thought I'd let a lot of people down and I went back over every decision I had made, wondering if I could have done more to prevent failure.
"After a week of moping, I realised that 20-20 hindsight was a wonderful advantage. The whole thing was put into perspective when I was being driven from the military side of the airfield at Guwahti to the civilian side to start my journey home
"On my last night there 11 people had been killed by mud slides and falling trees. I was there on adventure training, they were just trying to survive."
W/O Jones arrived back at Dishforth yesterday and confessed to still being depressed at having to abort the mission, which had originally been to fly round the world but was shortened to flying to Australia when bad weather, mechanical problems and illness had not left enough time for the flight across Canada to be completed before the onset of winter.
But he knows the feeling of failure will fade and he is keen to try again to become the first to fly an autogyro round the planet.
First he has to start the day job again. He plans to complete a book he has 70 per cent written on his adventure, then he and W/O Pete Taylor, who led the back-up group at Dishforth, will compile several reports for the Army and put the accounts in order, which will take them into the new year.
He and three of his colleagues in the team also face a refresher course before they are able to resume their careers flying helicopters.
"After that we'll go where the Army sends us," he said. "We're all soldiers at the end of the day."
He will continue to give presentations on the flight and occasionally think of the successes – the mountains and deserts he crossed, the countries he flew into where an autogyro had never been seen before, the six-hour, 509-mile flight from Muscat to Karachi, the longest over water by an autogyro, remembering that during the middle four hours of that flight he could see nothing but sea and sky.
"It will probably take me until the end of my Army career – four years from now – to get my finances in order but I'd love another crack at it. I'm sure it could be completed within 80 days," said W/O Jones.
W/O Taylor was equally enthusiastic but added a caveat: "We would not make another attempt unless we had a major sponsor in place before we started and that means a company coming in with a seven-figure sum."
Records apart, one of the objectives of the flight was to raise money for charities, and the team still hope to have enough funds when all their bills are paid to make contributions to the NSPCC, the Dyslexia Foundation – W/O Jones and his two sons are dyslexic – and the Red Cross September 11 Appeal.
That – and a possible second attempt – is in the future. For the present, W/O Jones reflected:"I spoke at over 200 schools before the trip, raising awareness of dyslexia and impressing on the children that no stigma is attached to being dyslexic. If I have given a few young people the confidence to overcome the problem then that's great.
"We have to over-ride depression and realise what we have achieved. This has changed all our lives for the better."