UK adventurer is first person to fly solo around world in open-cockpit gyrocopter

22 September 2019, 17:31 | Updated: 22 September 2019, 19:35

A British adventurer has become the first person to fly solo around the world in an open-cockpit gyrocopter - despite nearly being struck by lightning.

James Ketchell set off in the small aircraft, which is similar to the 'Little Nellie' machine seen in the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice, from Popham Airfield in Hampshire on 31 March.

The 37-year-old from Basingstoke completed the 24,000-nautical mile, 175-day journey on Sunday, landing in front of hundreds of well-wishers.

He said after landing at Popham Airfield: "It's quite overwhelming, it's magical.

"I have seen many amazing sights over the last six months. Probably one of the best is flying into Popham."

Mr Ketchell added: "The highlights undoubtedly have been the people I have met, I will be paying forward favours for the rest of my life and it doesn't matter what country I was in, what language they speak, people have been so helpful, people have been amazing."

Gyrcopters operate in a similar way to gliders and are considered the predecessor of the modern helicopter.

Mr Ketchell's Magni M16C gyrocopter travels at 70 knots, with a range of just 700 nautical miles, and its cockpit is open to the weather.

His journey took him across Europe, Russia, Canada, the US and the Atlantic Ocean, heading to Greenland and Iceland, before his final staging post on the Danish Faroe Islands.

But at one point in Canada it could have all been in jeopardy.

Mr Ketchell said: "I was almost struck by lightning and had to attempt an emergency landing on the road."

He said he was glad it was raining on Sunday when he landed, as it enabled people to understand some of the challenges he faced.

Mr Ketchell continued: "It shows people that it's not that simple, flying around the world.

"People had a slightly better understanding about what I have been trying to achieve."

During the trip Mr Ketchell, a UK scouting ambassador, set himself the goal of speaking at a school in every country he visited to help motivate youngsters.

Describing visits to schools in Siberia, he said: "The look on these kids' faces, big eyes staring at me with their mouths open while I was telling these stories as they were being translated, was a really magical feeling, and all the stresses drifted away.

"This is what this is all about."

Mr Ketchell described how he spent his teenage years depressed and lacking in confidence, and how a serious motorcycle accident led him to turn his life around.

He said: "With the birth of social media, teenagers now are frightened to do anything in case they get hung, drawn and quartered because they are worried about their image.

"I try to get my message out that 'Don't worry about anyone else and get out there and do your thing and your life will become free'."

Mr Ketchell is raising funds for the Kindled Spirit and Over The Wall children's charities.