A Supermarine Spitfire flew over Mount Everest on 26 May, 1945.
Then on 16 June another Merlin-powered aircraft, a de Havilland Mosquito belonging to RAF 684 Squadron, based at Alipore airfield, Calcutta, made an “accidental” flight over Mount Everest in 1945. Lieutenant G. Edwards circled the mountain for twenty minutes, taking photographs with cameras mounted in the wing-tanks. Nepal was a neutral country and this flight caused a minor diplomatic upset. The 400 ft of 35mm film of the mountain helped route-finding on the successful British expedition of 1953. The altitude ceiling of this Mosquito was 37,000 feet.
But these weren’t the first British aircraft over Everest. Two Westland biplanes had been there before them.
The 1933 Houston-Mount Everest Expedition was dreamed up by Lieutenant-Colonel Latham Valentine Stewart Blacker, an officer with the Indian Army. He had worked for the Bristol aero engine company and was aware of the high-altitude performance of their supercharged Pegasus radial engine. He recruited the adventure writer Colonel John Buchan and got the backing of the well-connected pilot Lord Clydesdale. They received the offer of aircraft from Westland and engines from Bristol but funding was not forthcoming. The British economy was descending into depression and flying over Mount Everest seemed non-essential to the Government.
Lord Clydesdale then traded on his mother’s acquaintance with Lady Lucy Houston and persuaded her to pay for the expedition. She had already backed the successful Supermarine S6B seaplane that won the 1931 Schneider Trophy for Britain. That aircraft was a direct ancestor of the Spitfire, and so it was this amazing woman that was responsible for not only the eventual success of that immortal aircraft, but also for vital high-altitude flying experience .
In the event the flights over the summit of Mount Everest were successful, the only hiccough being the accidental severing of the cine cameraman’s oxygen pipe on the first flight. He missed his shots of the summit but, against Lucy’s orders, a second flight was made and successful footage was secured.