My Everest helicopter tour

Ok, here’s the deal, I would love to go and see the world from the top of Everest, but I don’t want to go through that horrible climbing experience. Could I take a chopper up there (let’s assume there’s enough level ground for landing)? How about some sort of off road vehicle ( that’s pressurized)?

Technically possible but not advised. People are going on helicopter sightseeing tours, but officials are concerned that the helicopter traffic may cause avalanches, which becomes problematic for the sightseers on the ground.

And as far as the very tippy-top? Yes, there was a special super-high-altitude helicopter that went up there and touched down with the permission of the Nepalese government.

As the link notes, it was actually a fairly standard version of the Eurocopter AS350 Squirrel, with some seats removed and (presumably) not much more fuel than the minimum necessary for the mission.

Which could be a problem for someone wanting to do this as a passenger: helicopter needs to carry another person, another seat, and more fuel. That might be enough to put the summit out of reach.

Could be much tougher. You’d probably need a substantial baksheesh budget, and to be quite savvy about how to distribute it.

Pressurization aside, I don’t think there’s any sort of land vehicle (wheeled, tracked or otherwise) capable of climbing a serious mountain.

Atmospheric pressure is very low near the summit of Everest, winds are very strong, and low temperatures can cause ice formation on rotors and in fuel lines. And the weather is frequently very bad. Helicopter flights around there are dangerous.

Huh. When the story came out, they made it out to be a much bigger deal than that…

An interesting thing about helicopters… You know how airplanes go faster as they get higher? (They need more speed to get the same amount of the less-dense air over the wings.) Helicopters have to go slower the higher they go because of retreating blade stall.

No, there are parts of Everest where the only way up is a near-vertical climb.

The certified service ceiling of the A350 B3 is 16,550 ft (5,044 m). That is flying straight and level. For hovering in ground effect, the certified ceiling is 13,200 ft (4,023 m). Those are at max gross weight, so obviously stripping it down enabled it to go far higher. He also wisely approached the summit into a stiff headwind which aided rotor lift, similar to an airplane landing into a steady high wind.

However it was apparently at the absolute limit and did not really land as normally envisioned. The skids touched the summit but the rotor was turning the entire time and the aircraft was supported by the rotor not the ground. It qualified for an aeronautical record but any passenger (even if possible) would have had to jump out from an essentially hovering helicopter.

But it would apparently not be possible to take an extra person because the highest recorded helicopter mountain rescue of a single climber is 22,640 ft (6,900 m) using a similar stripped-down A350 B3.

Not a helicopter, but the wife and I have done a circle-Everest airplane flight on Buddha Air out of Kathmandu. That’s pretty neat. Each passenger is taken up to the cockpit in turn for a few minutes for a pilot’s-eye view, and that is especially spectacular. (Chinese airspace is avoided, of course.) That’s about as close as I’ll ever get.

When I was learning to fly helicopters I heard a story about a guy who rescued some people from a mountain, one at a time, in (I think) a Schweizer 300. Could have been a Bell 47. I don’t remember. The story could have been related by Warren Miller at one of his ski films, and I just happened to hear it while I was training. As everyone has noted, helicopters don’t do well at altitude. The pilot was able to land on a flat area and load a passenger, but didn’t have the power to take off. So he pointed the nose downslope and ‘skipped’ IGE down to a lower altitude until he could take off. ‘Running take-offs’, skidding along the ground without hovering until you have enough airspeed to take off is a technique that is demonstrated in training for when you’re a little heavy or if it’s a hot day.

I’m curious how you can circle the summit while staying clear of Chinese airspace.

Flying higher than the Everest Base Camp in a helicopter is banned by the Nepalese Civil Aviation Authority. There are exceptions for rescue operations and obviously by the guy that landed on the summit. Some tour operators break this rule but its dangerous and stupid. Sound can echo and reflect and cause unexpected effects in this environment, there are legitimate fears that helicopters can trigger avalanches even if they are far above the ground.

Good question. The peak of Everest marks the border between Nepal and China, so there isn’t any way to truly circle the peak and stay out of Chinese air space.

The nearest commercial airport to Everest is at Lukla. From there, the hike to Everest base camp takes over a week. A lot of the trail is steep and narrow. There is no way any sort of vehicle could make the trip and anyway, where are you going to get the fuel? I suppose you could ride a yak, but it would be very uncomfortable!

And this hike would only get you to the base of the mountain (18,000’) where you could get a great view of the peak (29,000’).

Instead of flying into Lukla, I spent almost 3 weeks hiking to the base camp from Lamasungu and ended up spending about a month in Nepal. You could fly in to Lukla, see Everest and fly out again and only spend about 3 weeks in Nepal. The hike from base camp back to Lukla can be done in only 3 or 4 days because you will be already acclimatized to the high altitude. However, weather often delays flights both into and out of Lukla, so don’t cut your departure date out of Kathmandu too close.

I’m using “circle” loosely. We stayed completely in Nepali airspace and went around Everest as much as possible without leaving that airspace. I guess maybe we “arced” it?

What about a hot air balloon, blimp, or dirigible?

You know those cases where the guy went as high as possible in a special balloon in order to set a skydiving record? And he even had to wear a special, sort of astronaut suit? Maybe he could land atop Everest.

Not the best choice of flying machine in a place where wind can be severe.

He’d be needing a rescue a few minutes after he arrived.