Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Up in the Air

         Today, April 3rd, is the anniversary of the first flight over Mount Everest. In 1933, the Houston Mount Everest Flying Expedition successfully flew two aircraft over the summit, a Westland PV-3 and a Westland Wallace (PV-6), carrying Lord Clydesdale, Col. Stewart Blacker, David McIntyre and Sidney Bonnett. The four repeated the act on April 19th., accomplishing one aim of the expedition, which was to make a photographic survey of the mountain. 
In 1936, Lord Clydesdale flew to Germany, where he attended the infamous Berlin Olympic Games and, at the invitation of Hermann Goering, inspected the Luftwaffe. Although, ostensibly, this was because he was such a famous aviator, it is believed this may also have involved a little espionage for the British Government. Following the death of his father, Lord Clydesdale inherited the title Duke of Hamilton. In May 1941, Rudolf Hess, Hitler's Reichdeputy, parachuted into Scotland. He was arrested and moved to a prison in Glasgow, where he asked to see Lord Hamilton. It is thought he may have seen him at the Olympics, although they had not met. Hess is believed to have been trying to broker a secret peace deal with the British. He was tried for war crimes at the Nuremberg trials, found guilty, and imprisoned for life at Spandau. Hamilton was cleared in the House of Commons of any prior involvement with Hess.

These are pictures of a de Havilland Gypsy Moth model I have made. It is an Airfix kit, bought on ebay for £5. The Tiger Moth first flew in 1931, and was a two-seater training aircraft. Many, many fighter pilots first learned to fly in them, as they are a very forgiving plane in normal conditions, but require great skill and concentration when used in aerobatics.

In 1934, Maurice Wilson, known as the 'Mad Yorkshireman', flew a Gypsy Moth plane, which he called Ever Wrest, from England to India. Inspired partly by the Houston Expedition, he intended to fly to Nepal, crash his plane as high up Mount Everest as possible, and continue on foot to the summit. Unfortunately, he knew nothing about mountaineering, and next to nothing about flying - he took twice as long as is normal to get a pilot's licence. The Air Ministry banned him from flying to India, but Wilson set off anyway. He landed in Bahrein, where he was told he could only refuel if he agreed to return to England immediately. He gave his assent, refuelled, took off, and then continued on with his flight to India. He arrived there, with his fuel gauge showing empty, was told by the authorities that he was refused permission to continue on to Nepal, and had his plane impounded to prevent him going on. So Wilson set off on foot and walked the 300 miles to Everest. He, and three Sherpa guides, entered Nepal disguised as Buddhist monks and arrived at the Rongbuk Monastery. Two days later Wilson left for the mountain, but bad weather and a sprained ankle forced his return to the monastery. He took eighteen days to recover, then set off again, with two of the Sherpas. He attempted the North Col, was driven back again, the Sherpas pleaded with him to return to the monastery, he refused, and equipped with a tent, three loaves, two tins of oatmeal, a camera and a silken Union Flag, he left for another try. His diary entry for May 31st. simply read, "Off again, glorious day."

In 1935, the Shipton expedition found his body below the North Col. He was buried in a crevasse. He died of either exhaustion or starvation.

Mount Everest is named after Sir George Everest, Surveyor General of India. Sir George pronounced his surname as 'Eve - rest', but everyone says 'Ever - est' these days. The Tibetans call it Qomolangma; often spelled Chomolungma; literally meaning "Holy Mother".

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