If you’re wondering if a helicopter can fly to the top of Mount Everest, the answer is yes.
It has been done before – but only once.
In 2005, Didier DelSalle flew to the top of and even landed on the 8,848 m (29,030 ft) summit of Mount Everest.
This feat was achieved in a Eurocopter AS350 Squirrel, where he remained for 3 minutes and 50 seconds.
The following day, when conditions were even more dangerous, he repeated the landing to prove that it had not been simple luck.
So while entirely possible, as it has been achieved by Didier DelSalle, flying to the top of Mount Everest isn’t something that helicopter pilots want or ever need to do except in the instance of Didier DelSalle to set a world record.
This is because flying to the top of Mount Everest is rife with danger, though helicopters have flown below the summit to rescue climbers before.
The reasons why helicopters can’t fly to the top of Mount Everest are all to do with the limitations of helicopters at high altitudes.
4 Reasons Helicopters Can’t Fly to the Top of Mount Everest
Low Air Density/Low Air Pressure
While airplanes can fly at high altitudes (as high as 40,000 feet), helicopters are unable to do so, as they are unable to handle the lower-density air found higher up in the atmosphere.
In fact, the air pressure at the top of Mt Everest is only about 1/3 as much as at sea level, which means that a helicopter can only generate 1/3 of the lift.
Related: How High Can A Helicopter Fly?
Less Room for Error
The changes to the air pressure and temperature require helicopter pilots to constantly make calculations, which if wrong, can be disastrous.
While there can be some leeway at lower altitudes, there is much less room for error at higher altitudes.
When Didier DelSalle achieved the feat of flying to the top of Mount Everest, it was in one of the world’s most powerful helicopters that undoubtedly had the best high-altitude performance.
Additionally, the helicopter was lightened by 120 kg (265 lb) by removing unnecessary elements, such as passenger seats, to reduce the standard weight and increase the helicopter’s performance
This extended the helicopter’s fuel range by 1 hour.
Even if a pilot had the extraordinary skill to be able to fly and land at the top of Mount Everest, there aren’t many helicopters out there that are up to the task, especially without modifications.
As if flying to Mount Everest wasn’t hard enough, the stars have to align and the weather conditions have to be just right.
As the weather can change in the matter of minutes, with high-winds, thick cloud cover, heavy snowfall, and sub-zero temperatures all setting in, a pilot can have very tough conditions to navigate.
The only time it would be possible to fly to the summit of Mount Everest would be between April and May due to more favorable weather conditions.
It’s no coincidence that Didier DelSalle flew to the top in mid-May.
Can Helicopters Rescue Climbers on Mount Everest?
Helicopters can and have rescued climbers on Mount Everest.
The highest successful rescue was by Maurizio Folini on May 19, 2013, in a Eurocopter AS350 B3 at 7,800 m/25,590 ft, which is a few thousand feet from the top of the mountain.
In order for the rescue operation to be a success, good weather and relatively calm winds were needed, which isn’t always possible.
How High Up Can Helicopters Land on Mount Everest?
Except for Didier DelSalle who flew to the top of Mount Everest, helicopters won’t land any higher than 21,000ft/6,400m.
This is because this is the location of Camp 2, which has flat terrain and designated landing areas for helicopters.
Has a Helicopter Ever Flown Higher Than the Top of Mount Everest?
A helicopter has flown some way higher than the top of Mount Everest.
In 1972, Jean Boulet, piloting an Aérospatiale SA 315 Lama, flew at 12,442 m (40,820 ft).
In 2002, Jean Boulet’s record was broken by Fred North who achieved an altitude of 42,500 feet (12,954 m) in a Eurocopter AS350 B2.