We get a lot of questions with regard to the capabilities of helicopters, but this one caught our attention. Helicopters can do many incredible things, but can a helicopter fly to the top of Mount Everest? Let us explain.
First, let’s address Mount Everest in general, in case you have no idea what it is. Mount Everest, known in Nepali as Sagarmāthā and in Tibetan as Chomolungma, is home to the highest mountain peak on Earth. Roughly, the peak sits 29,029 feet above sea level.
The mountain is located in the Mahalangur Himal sub-range of the Himalayas. A combination of height, lack of oxygen and the deadly terrain make it a famous area for climbers to try and climb, often losing their lives in the process. Unfortunately, although it may seem like a more logical plan, taking a helicopter to base camp 1 or 2 or even to the top is looked down upon in the mountaineering community so not very many helicopters try and make the journey to the top unless they are rescuing climbers along the route.
Flight Abilities Impacting The Ability To Take A Helicopter To The Top Of Mount Everest
When discussing whether or not it is possible to take a helicopter to the top of Mount Everest, it is important to understand the abilities of the helicopter in general. Helicopters are predominantly flown close to the ground,that is why you won’t see any helicopters flying along side the 747 you may take to fly across the country. They are built to hover and fly using a combination of air pressure, lift and drag.
In a place such as Mount Everest, the air is at a much lower-density making helicopter flight more dangerous and less stable. For a pilot to fly at that height, he would need to consistently calculate the amount of power needed to conduct regular maneuvers with the variance in air pressure and temperature.
It is also not easy to land a helicopter or any aircraft in an area that may cause or be affected by an avalanche, but that goes without saying.
Helicopters have flown to a much higher elevation though, the highest helicopter flight altitude was at 40,000 feet and accomplished by Jean Boulet of France on June 21, 1972. He had to fly with supplemental oxygen masks and at that altitude, the engines broke and Boulet had to land the aircraft in an emergency maneuver known as an autorotation.
Mount Everest Stats That Would Impact the Helicopter
Another factor in taking a helicopter to the top of Mount Everest is the impact the actual mountain has on flight ability. Sheer and wind currents affect flight in completely unpredictable ways. The peak, itself reaches into the upper troposphere and barely meets the stratosphere, exposing it to jet streams and freezing winds. Helicopters most easily fly in calm winds and much more stable temperatures.
The height affects the air pressure in different ways with regard to helicopter flight. Remember that lift/drag thing we mentioned earlier? Well at 29,000 ft, the air pressure is at ⅓ as much as a pilot might see at sea level. Therefore, the helicopter would only generate ⅓ of the lift it may have closer to the ground.
The temperature of the wind and on the ground once landed is also an incredibly dangerous threat for anyone trying to take a helicopter to the top of Mount Everest as ice can form on the rotors, fuel and the hydraulics could freeze.
Can a Helicopter Fly to the Top of Mount Everest?
So what have we concluded? That it may be impossible to take a helicopter to the top of Mount Everest… But that isn’t necessarily true. In fact, a World Record was set in May of 2005 when pilot, Didier Delsalle, of France, flew his Ecureuil AS350 B3 to the top of Mount Everest. The record was set for the highest altitude landing and take-off ever for any flying machine on Earth. Although he only needed to land for two minutes to set the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI – International Aeronautical Federation) official record, he stayed at the summit for four minutes.
Supporting the aircraft on the snow is extremely dangerous so, Delsalle needed to keep the rotors engaged during the landing. After landing back at Lukla, Delsalle was recorded as saying, “To reach this mythical summit definitively seemed to be a dream; despite the obvious difficulties of the target to be reached, the aircraft demonstrated its capability to cope with the situation, sublimated by the magic of the place.”