The early 1930s were an era of aviation achievements when Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic, Richard E Byrd reached the poles and Amy Johnson flew solo from London to Australia. Experimental flights were attracting not only swashbuckling, pioneering pilots, but also nationalistic sponsors keen to advance technology and force new scientific frontiers.
This month a new biography is published about Lucy Lady Houston, a former chorus girl notorious as the richest woman in England who brushed aside scandal to become the patriotic financier of the first flight over Mount Everest, backed secret military research, and funded the creation of the Spitfire aircraft.
Still nobody had flown over the highest point on earth, and the British were galvanised into action to beat their European rivals. Supported by the Royal Air Force, Britain had the advantage of a newly developed supercharged engine (the Bristol IS3 Pegasus) in a uniquely modified aircraft with an open cockpit they named the Houston-Westland, recommended by the RAF as the fastest-climbing two-seater aircraft ever tested. Douglas Douglas-Hamilton Marquis of Clydesdale (later 14th Duke of Hamilton) was appointed chief pilot, seconded by Flt Lt David McIntyre, each accompanied by an observer cameraman.
Shipped by sea in crates to Karachi then reassembled, the two small Westland biplanes flew to the expedition base at Lalbalu airfield near Purnia in Bihar, due south of Biratnagar and some 160 miles southeast of Everest. The team was joined by three De Havilland Moths which had taken one month to fly out from UK, and large amounts of support equipment.