Indeed, as a man who has climbed the highest mountain on every continent, he has laughed in death’s boney face on several occasions.
But none of the various challenges that he had previously taken on could prepare him for this expedition. What use is it being an experienced pilot when you’re flying a bloody car?
Following his trip to Africa in the soon-to-be-famous ‘skycar’ he chatted to OTB about hanging around with Bear Grylls, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and most importantly, how long we will have to wait to get our hands on a aero-buggy.
You’ve climbed some of the highest mountains in the world and trekked across Antarctica, how did this expedition compare in terms of preparation?
The major difference was that the skycar expedition was a multi-disciplinary overland traverse with lots of different vehicles – and a flying car. We had 14 people on the team as apposed to two or three. Essentially it was a two year project, there was a great deal of time-consuming preparation to do. Selecting the team, raising sponsorship, purchasing vehicles, building the skycar, organising marketing/press/pr and getting all the admin sorted out. We travelled through 8 different countries and sorting out visas took a while.
How scared were you when you were nearly forced to jump out of the actual vehicle over the strait of Gibraltar?
I didn’t have an awful lot of time to think about how scared I was, to be honest I was concentrating quite hard on what my options were and whether there was anything I could do to save the car. At some point I decided that nothing much was working and that my best option was to jump clear – fortunately I was able to pull it round.
Where would that rank in the scariest moments of your life? We assume that there have been a few.
Definitely top ten, maybe even top five!
Gilo (the cars designer and Neil’s partner on the expedition) seemed like a nice chap – how did you first meet him?
I met him through Bear Grylls. We went on a paramotor exploratory expedition to the Amazon jungle about five years ago.
That sounds like great fun! You must have been quite confident that you would be alright going into the jungle with the one and only Bear Grylls…
Yes he’s a good friend, he was obviously a bit younger then and has become a bit famous since.
Going back to the programme, what are the future plans for the skycar?
What we’re looking for now is an investor who sees the potential in our version of flying cars and we’ve got some great ideas for the second generation of the vehicle.
It must have been annoying to be denied permission to fly across the channel, maybe with a bit more publicity that’s something that you can sort out next time?
Yes definitely. That was a bit disappointing, but these things have a way of ironing themselves out and I was pleased to be able to fly over the starits of Gibraltar instead.
Maybe if Gilo hadn’t had that incident with the tree, you might have been able to complete the final planned flight over the Sahara?
We were planning to fly into Timbuktu, but obviously it is a car as well, so we were happy to be able to finish the challenge on the ground.
Viewers also witnessed the tricky border crossing that the team experienced between Morocco and Mauritania, were you concerned at that stage that you weren’t going to get through with all your equipment?
We had lots of trouble with borders, but we expected that. We had a major issue at the Moroccan border. I had to cut some metal from the skycar and drive back across via the sea ferry and go to a different port. Which put us a bit further behind schedule.
Gilo did say that he felt like you were on the cusp of something very special, is there any chance that we might be able to purchase one of these vehicles any time soon?
We’ve got some really exciting designs, any red-blooded driver is going to enjoy having a mark II skycar in their garage I think, and we are hoping to be in a position to sell them by the end of next year.
Finally Neil, the other famous flying car was called Chitty Chitty Bang Bang because of the sound it made. If you had to name the Skycar in a similar fashion, what would you call it?
(laughs) Crikey, you’ve put me on the spot there! I’ll have to get back to you on that one…