Monday 3rd April 1933 was the day that the commander of 602 City of Glasgow squadron of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force – 30 year-old Squadron Leader Douglas Douglas-Hamilton – the Marquess of Clydesdale as he was then known – and an unnamed cine-photographer in the open cockpit of a Westland PV-3 biplane became the first to fly over Mount Everest. They were very closely followed by a second Westland piloted by 28 year old Flight Lieutenant David Fowler McIntyre;
In due time their flight made them world famous and a documentary film of their adventure, ‘Wings Over Everest’, won a Hollywood Oscar in 1934. This was, perhaps, no surprise as McIntyre is recorded as having the stunning looks of a matinee idol, while the dashing Hamilton managed to combine a day job as Member of Parliament for the Scottish Universities with being the youngest squadron leader in the RAF reserve!
A Scotsman newspaper editorial on Monday 17th February 1933 summed up the project: “Success will mean a triumph of British grit and also British materials, besides resulting in an extension of human knowledge of the planet which we inhabit”. It made no mention of possible failure.
The flight would not be easy as existing aircraft engines of the time wouldn’t work in the thin air, even if fuel could be developed that did not freeze! Added to this was the fact that breathing apparatus – necessary at six miles high – was still unreliable. And, above all, the unpredictable winds over Everest would make any flight treacherous in a biplane.
Solving these technical problems required money and this was found from an unexpected source – Fanny Lucy Radmall, the daughter of a Lambeth draper! She had escaped poverty by becoming a chorus girl before, aged just 16, eloping with the married heir to the Bass Brewery fortune! In years to follow Lucy wed a succession of rich husbands and by the time the last one died, she was Lady Houston and a millionaire! There was another side to Lucy though. She had funded the British entry to the Schneider Trophy international air speed competition, which led directly to the Spitfire fighter that won the Battle of Britain.