7 summits by Microlight

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Lukla airfield
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(UTC + 5:45)

Lukla airfield

Sir Edmund Hillary describes in his book “View from the Summit” how the airfield at Lukla was built.

In 1964 I was in the Khumbu again with Jim Wilson, Peter Muigrew and quite a large group of our Himalayan Trust members. I had noticed that below Chaunrikarka there was a large area of almost flat land pushing out into a curve of the Dudh Kosi. I asked Jim Wilson to investigate it and he reported that it just might do, but that it was barely long enough and also very fertile land, so that the local people might be understandably reluctant to sell. Then Jim had a rather amazing experience. He was approached by a group of farmers from the small village of Lukla, which was located in a small tributary valley at 9,000 feet. They had some land for sale and thought it would be suitable for an airfield. They even suggested that the wind always blew in the right direction! How hill people who knew nothing about airfields could possibly make this sort of judgement I do not know, but when we went up to Lukla we agreed that they were right. And best of all we wouldn’t be destroying a lot of arable land. One third was in rough pasture, one third in heavy scrub and the last third in terraced potato fields. It certainly wasn’t flat, the rise from bottom to top was over a hundred feet, but this wouldn’t be a problem to a STOL (short take-off or landing) aircraft. Even the negotiations for the land were relatively easy. I purchased it on behalf of the Nepalese government for a total of $635 — quite a substantial sum in that area in those days.

We had no mechanical equipment, of course, so everything had to be done by hand. Mingma recruited more than a hundred Sherpas and with kukris and mattocks they cut down the bush, dug out the roots and levelled the land. The terraced potato fields required a vast amount of earth moving, and there were some huge boulders that we were unable to lift. Instead we used the method pioneered by the Sherpas on the Mingbo airfield. We dug huge holes and then rolled the rocks into them and covered them up with earth.

And the first landing:

The first Pilatus Porter flight was fast approaching, but I was still not entirely happy with the top surface of the field which was rather soft. I decided to use a simple but practical method to improve this. Sherpa dancing is very vigorous and involves much stamping of the feet. We purchased large quantities of chang and then employed fifty Sherpas to link arms and stamp their way backwards and forwards across the field. A very festive mood prevailed and the earth received a most resounding thumping. Two days of this rather reduced the Sherpas’ enthusiasm for the dance but produced a firm and smooth surface for our airfield. The strip was 1,150 feet long and 100 feet wide and was clearly marked by white painted boards. Altogether I had paid out just over $2,000 for land and labour.

No doubt with memories of Mingbo airfield two Civil Aviation representatives were coming in as observers on the new airfield’s first flight and their judgement would be final. It was the sharp ears of a Sherpa who first heard the aircraft coming up the valley and we hastily removed all the children and cows off the runway. I admit to feeling rather tense as the Pilatus Porter circled overhead. Then the plane wheeled, its flaps came down and it swung in to the bottom of the strip. The wheels touched with a puff of dust and next moment it was rolling up the airfield and came to a rapid halt. It took full power for the plane to taxi to the top of the runway and then we were welcoming the clearly delighted crew and passengers. I had an enormous feeling of pleasure and relief. Lukia quickly became the busiest mountain airfield in Nepal and the gateway to Everest.

ALPHA emergency parachute
The FIAT group
THE NORTH FACE clothing for extreme conditions
ICARO 2000 Hang Gliding World Champion
O-ZEE flight suits.  Suppliers of Bar-mitts to the expedition.
PEGASUS AVIATION manufacturers of fine microlight Aircraft
MAINAIR SPORTS  manufacturers of fine microlight Aircraft
Articole Studios - GRP mouldings
BAILEY AVIATION manufacturers of Paramotors and automotive sport acessories
SKYDRIVE, the UK Distributor of ROTAX engines
Neltec flexible heaters
Industrial Pressure Testing Ltd; Suppliers of Oxygen cylinders to the expedition.
PARAMINA; Suppliers of Oxygen equipment to the expedition
Mainair Sports; UK dealer for Warp Drive Propellors
AdventureWeather.com providing Meteorological information to the expedition
Lyndhurst Touchdown Services.  Supplier of fuel system components to the expedition.
FLYCOM Intercom and Radio equipment
Quatar airways
Gerbings heated clothing
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4 Jan 2004
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