Can A Helicopter Fly To The Top of Mount Everest?

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Mt. Everest, the highest peak in the world, standing at an elevation of 8,848.86 meters (29,031.7 feet), is the most spectacular natural wonder of this planet. The summit of this highest peak in the world is also known as the ‘stairway to heaven’ as it touches the sky. Reaching the summit of this peak is a life-long dream of every mountaineering enthusiast, and those who cannot fathom reaching the top of this peak settle with reaching the base of this Himalayan peak. But can a helicopter fly to the top of Mount Everest?

Yeah, things would have been much simpler if the helicopter could fly all the way to the top of this marvelous peak. Then, mountaineering wouldn’t have to take part in over two months of expedition to scale their way to the top. The enthusiast who couldn’t keep the physical demands of the strenuous climbing would also be able to step onto the summit fully prepared.

However, it is not as easy as it sounds; helicopter flight to the top of Everest was possible, and the mountaineering industry would have evolved in a completely different direction. If os, by now, you would also have heard about the blooming air-based travel to the top of the highest peak on the planet. So, to put a straight answer to the question ‘can a helicopter fly to the top of Mount Everest, the answer would be No!!.

Well, at least not at this point; however, in the near future, it might not be completely impossible. Have any daredevils tried to pull off this unthinkable task? Has there been any layout to make this flight possible? Well, aren’t these interesting set of questions?

Can Helicopters Fly to the Top of Mount Everest? Tale of Man Who Actually Did the Impossible

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Before discussing any other topic related to ‘can a helicopter fly to the top of Mount Everest?’, let’s discuss about the legend who did the impossible. We are talking about the legendary French pilot Didier Delsalle, who achieved an unimaginable feat on 14th May 2005 and made a touchdown at the summit of the highest peak on the planet.

The French pilot in history is the first and last person to achieve such an incredible feat. Delsalle joined the French Air Force as a fighter pilot in 1979, and after serving two years in the force, he became a helicopter pilot. He worked in search and rescue operations for a decade. In the early 2,000s, the French Pilot was assigned to conduct maid flights on the AS350 B3, the most powerful beast in the product line.

Delsalle, at the time, recalled his long sought-out dream to land on the summit of Mount Everest. The idea was turned and only received the green signal in 2004 after a new version of Turbomeca Arriel 2 outperformed its predecessor. So, after all the preparation, he set out to make records in the Himalayas. On the clear day of the 14th of May, he reached his goal and stayed on the summit of Mt. Everest for 3 minutes and 50 seconds before flying down to Lukla.

However, this victory was achieved on a thin thread, and many after, the French pilot did try to break his record of landing on the highest mountain on the planet. But, the unpredictable weather of the Himalayas didn’t favor other pilots like Delsalle.

List of Failed Attempts for Helicopter Landing on Everest After Didier Delsalle’s Record

Can a helicopter fly to Everest

Year Name of Pilot Helicopter Model
2005 Lt. Col. Madan Khatri Chhetri Eurocopter AS350 B3 (modified for high-altitude flying)
2007 Gerold Biner Eurocopter AS350 B3 (with special engine and rotor blades)
2013 Alexey Gusev Eurocopter AS350 B3 (special engine and rodor blades)

Challenges With Flying to the Summit of Mount Everest

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There are several reasons why the answer to the ‘can a helicopter fly to the top of Mount Everest’ is generally on the negative side. They are also the same reasons why nobody has been able to break the record of the first-ever landing on Mount Everest.

Air Pressure

To understand the mechanics of a helicopter, in simple words, the rotor of the helicopter spins great air pressure below and above. As a result, the upward force lifts the helicopter into the sky. This delicate balance depends on the air’s density, which provides the resistance necessary for the rotor blades to work on. However, at significant altitudes like on top of Mount Everest, the air is thinner and less dense.

That means the rotor blades have less density to work to keep the helicopter afloat. The efficiency of the rotor system drops as the air starts to thin out at higher altitudes, and it complicates the helicopter’s ability to sustain the altitude and maneuverability. On top of the reduced air density that takes the helicopter to stay afloat a struggle, the cold temperatures also affect the flexibility of the rotor blades. This affects the aero-dynamic property of the helicopter and further pummels down its efficiency.

Unpredictable Weather

The weather conditions in the Himalayan are quite unpredictable. It doesn’t take that long for a clear day to turn into a disastrous nightmare at such altitudes. Heavy snow, blizzards, avalanches, and low visibility are some of the significant weather challenges en route to the summit of the highest mountain in the world. As the helicopter’s upward draft depends on the air density, the high wind and blizzard can cause turbulence and make the flight unstable.

In general, spring (March to May) and autumn (Septemeber to November) are considered the periods with the most stable weather conditions in Nepal. These seasons have somewhat of a more balanced climate. Didier Delsalle also made his successful touch down during the mid-point of the May. But, the thing is that the weather factor isn’t always constant, even during these peak seasons; that’s why nobody has been able to make a successful summit with a helicopter on top of Everest after the French pilot.

Technical Error

The first and last helicopter to make a successful landing on Mount Everest, AS350 B3, had gone through several modifications so that Didier Delsalle could maneuver it more efficiently. Various part of the helicopter was removed to maximize the efficiency of the rotor at lower air density. Even if a skilled pilot is navigating the vessel at a diverse altitude where the weather keeps changing, and air pressure is unpredictable, it requires consistency in the myriad calculations of the pilot.

As it can be hard to keep up with variation, even a slight miscalculation could be fatal. Not only that, a simple error could even cause an avalanche and wipe out the mountaineering at the camps. Similarly, besides affecting the rotor blade, the cold temperature can also affect the battery life and freeze the fuel, which further compromises the efficiency of the helicopter.

Difficult Terrain

The alpine means are generally the mixture of rock, ice, and snow with challenging ridges. During the Everest expedition, the climbers take about two months to slowly and safely move along the steep slopes of the peak and overcome the technical part to reach the summit of the mountain. The major challenge in the helicopter flight to the top of Everest is landing on the ice and snow slope that is tilting at 40°C.

Although the minimum area for the helicopter to make a safe and stable landing is about 10 meters, it is not possible at the top of the world. So, pilots get limited time and space to make their touchdown at the summit of the peak. If they are not careful, the helicopter could slide down or roll over during the landing. This not only puts the life of the pilot at risk but also the climbers and expedition teams below.

Altitude Constraints

If you are familiar with mountain expeditions, then you might be familiar with the risk that comes with alpine sports. Especially on the peaks in the 8,000-meter class, there are segments called the death zones, which have low oxygen saturation in the atmosphere. These death zones are so dangerous that the cells start dying minute by minute as long as mountaineers are inside this zone.

Mount Everest, being the highest peak on the planet, also has a large portion of the death zone on the slopes that the climber should cross during the expedition. The oxygen saturation level inside the Everest death zone is at just 34%. At such altitudes, not only does low oxygen level affect the performance of the engine, but is also puts the crew at risk of altitude sickness and hypoxia.

Highest Landing Point on Everest- How High Can Helicopters Fly Up Everest?

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Even if regular helicopter flights cannot reach all the way to the top of Everest, you might be curious about how high can helicopters fly up Everest. The helicopter rescue operations are pretty efficiently used and feasible on every part of the Everest Base Camp Trek route. As for the rescue operations on the mountain, the helicopter flight can reach a maximum altitude of 6,400 meters (20,997 feet), which is Camp II during the Everest expedition.

Camp II is flat terrain that is suitable for helicopter landing, and most of the evacuations on Everest are conducted at this high camp. Camp I on Everest, which is at an elevation of 6,0065 meters (19,900 feet), also has a little space for helicopter landing that is suitable for emergencies. But, as Camp II is higher and has more space, the rescue operations are more effectively carried out.

The rescue operations are also possible on the sloper above area Camp II; however, due to the lack of a stable landing spot, the rescue can only be carried out using ropes. Camp II is the highest point on Everest currently, where the helicopters can make safe landings. So, to answer your can a helicopter fly to the top of Mount Everest, for the commercial, its absolutely impossible right now.

Still, there are several helicopter flight options available to enjoy the aerial views of the majestic Himalayas. The normal helicopter generally operates at an altitude of 3,000 meters (10,000 feet), and they are not suitable for helicopter tours in the Everest region. For helicopter flights in the Everest region, turbine helicopters which can fly upto 7,200 meters (23,622 feet). So, even if reaching the top of the mountain is not possible, you will still be able to capture the view of the summit from a distance.

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Helicopter Flights to Everest- Best Alternatives

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Although the answer to your question to ‘can helicopters fly to the top of Mount Everest’ might have a slightly disappointing answer, there are other alternatives to helicopter exploration in the Everest region. Helicopter flight to the top of Everest might not be possible at the moment, but you can still relish a wide variety of helicopter exploration that provides you the opportunity to catch surreal aerial views of the tallest wonder standing on the planet.

Everest Base Camp Helicopter Tour

Everest Base Camp Helicopter Tour is a one-day itinerary exploration of the Everest region, where you will get the opportunity to fly over the major highlights of the region all the way to the base of the mountain. This helicopter tour is the most standard aerial exploration option in the Everest region, and you will fly over Everest Base Camp (5,364 meters) and Kalapatthar (5,644 meters).

Your journey will typically start with a helicopter flight from Kathmandu (1,400 meters) to Lukla (2,800 meters), which will take about 45 minutes. Then, for the next phase, you will fly to Pheriche (4,371 meters) from where you will fly over the base camp and Kalapathhar in a shuttle. The flight lasts about 15 to 20 minutes, and as only 3 people are included in a single shuttle trip, everybody can enjoy the great aerial views of the eastern Himalayas.

Everest Base Camp Private Helicopter Tour

Although you will get the opportunity to enjoy Himalayan ambiance during the regular Everest Base Camp Helicopter Tour, if you are looking for a more immersive experience, you can go for the Everest Base Camp Private Helicopter Tour. What sets this private apart from the regular helicopter tour is that instead of just flying over the major landmarks of the Everest region, you will actually get the opportunity to explore them on foot.

In this private helicopter tour, you will make your landing at the Kalapatthar, the highest and most popular viewpoint in the Everest region. You will have the opportunity to truly embrace the Himalayan tranquility and admire the grandeur of the tallest peak in the world and other surrounding mountains up close. This helicopter exploration also starts in the same way as the regular EBC Helicopter Tour, and after taking a shuttle from Pheriche, you will land at Kalapatthar fro 15 to 20 minutes. This is the closest thing to the Everest landing at the present time without making any effort.

Everest Base Camp Heli Trek

If you feel like the one-day helicopter tours are not enough for truly relishing the magnificence of the mighty Everest region, you also have the option to go for the blend of both trek and aerial adventure. Everest Base Camp Heli Trek takes you along the exciting route of the mainstream EBC trek, and after completing your trek, you will fly back to Kathmandu from Gorak Shep (5,164 meters).

Although the normal EBC Trek lasts around two weeks, this trek with helicopter return will cut off the need for the return trek. You will also get enough acclimatization period along the way, so you don’t put yourself at risk of altitude sickness. In this Himalayan exploration you will start your trek with Kathmandu to Lukla flight. Gradually making your ascend from Phakding (2,652 meters), you will cross major highlights of this route like Namche Bazaar (3,440 meters), Tengboche (3,868 meters), Dingboche (4,410 meters), Lobuche (4,910 meters) and finally cross Gorak Shep to reach Everest Base Camp.

This trek will also include a hike to Kalapatthar for the panoramic views of the Himalayan peaks. Then, after trekking down to Gorakshep, you will take the helicopter flight back to Kathmandu to enjoy the incredible views of the Everest and other Himalayan massifs.

Conclusion

Although there isn’t a safe and feasible way to reach the summit of Mount Everest with the current level of technology, by the pace of development, it doesn’t seem like a far-fetched dream anymore. There might be a possibility to reach the top of Everest in the near future, but, as for now, you will have to settle with the helicopter exploration that safely flies over the basin of the Himalayas with a clear view of the summit.

It may be while before the actual commercialization of the such incredible adventure option, but it doesn’t mean that you cannot relish the true beauty of the Himalayas now. Besides the incredible aerial prospects, we also offer the customization options so that you can truly immerse in the Himalayan experience that you are looking for. Contact, Everest Assitance for any kind of queries and booking.

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