Charles Douglas-Hamilton before the 80th anniversary flight in Kathmandu airport. In the background is the Jetsream-41 aircraft used for the flight. Photo: Utpal Parashar
Eighty years ago, two small aircrafts took off from Lalbalu, an airfield near Purnea in Bihar, and successfully circled over Mount Everest - a historic feat with scientific significance.
Those first flights over the highest peak made international headlines, helped produce accurate maps of the area, enabled study of weather patterns in high altitudes, benefitted aviation, photography and watchmakers.
On Wednesday, on the 80th anniversary of that April 3, 1933 flight, Charles Douglas-Hamilton - grandson of Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, the Scottish chief pilot of the first flight, retraced the maiden trip.
“It’s great to witness what my grandfather did. My maternal great-grandfather John Buchan was chairman of the Mt Everest flight and he was the one who got my grandfather involved,” said Charles.
Though it was his first visit to Nepal, the geologist plans to return soon with friends to trek and scale some mountains.
Douglas-Hamilton, who was the Marquis of Clydesdale, selected another Scott, Flight Lieutenant David Fowler MacIntyre, as the second pilot—both flew a Houston-Westland and a Westland-Wallace.
The 80th anniversary flight in a Jetsream-41, incidentally made by the same company founded by Douglas-Hamilton and MacIntyre after their Everest feat, was completely different from the original.
Unlike the aircraft on Wednesday, the two bi-planes used in the pioneering flights had open cockpits and didn’t have pressurised compartments or air-conditioning -making it extremely difficult.
“I got a feel of how difficult it must have been to fly those two aircrafts over the summit in 1933 in temperatures ranging from -30 to -35 degrees Celsius,” said Charles after the flight.
The ideal situation would have been to retrace the route of the original flight from Lalbalu and cover the distance of over 500 kilometres - but logistics posed an obstacle.
“The two aircrafts could fly at altitudes of up to 35,000 feet and for over 3 hours at a stretch, which the Jetsream 41 is not capable of,” said Umesh Chandra Rai, general manager of Yeti Airlines, the Nepali company which conducted Wednesday’s flight.
Charles, who is also into mountaineering and has scaled Mt Kilimanjaro, however, is hopeful of recreating the original flight route in another 20 years - when the centenary celebrations are held.