Land a plane on top of a mountain?

Seriously? Deliberately land a plane on the summit of one of England’s tallest mountains?

Yep, it happened – no less than 90 years ago this week.

On 22 December 1926 John F. Leeming, the then chairman of the Lancashire Aero Club, and the Avro test pilot Bert Hinkler put down a humble Avro Gosport biplane on the summit of Helvellyn in the Lake District.

They landed on the wide, rocky summit, jumped out and asked an unsurprisingly startled fellwalker – an E.R. Dodds, a Professor of Greek at Birmingham University – to sign a hastily-scribbled statement to confirm what he’d just seen.

They then took off over Striding Edge and headed back to their starting point, Woodford in Cheshire.

There’s a stone tablet on Helvellyn that notes this remarkable bit of Lake District and British aviation history.

The very idea of landing a plane on top of a mountain seems remarkable nine decades on, still less the fact that it happened – perhaps that is reflective of the fact that ours is a very different age.

Not that there was a unanimously positive reaction to the event at the time, despite newspapers countrywide delightedly reporting the landing with typical tabloid gusto. An editorial piece in one Scottish newspaper, the Dundee Courier, was highly critical.

If I’m perfectly honest I sympathise with that view. Even though I write about aviation, I can’t say I’m sold on the idea of landing an aircraft in an otherwise unspoilt, natural and peaceful place like a mountain summit.

Equally, though, I can understand the impulses behind why it was done – to prove the potential of aviation, which after all back in 1926 was still very much a novel form of transport.

And if nothing else, it’s simply a good tale. I was pleased to research and write about it for a recent issue of Aeroplane magazine.

The story has the qualities of an old-fashioned ripping yarn – there’s a dash of bravery, a lot of skill, a bit of luck and our characters battling against obstacles (in their case appalling weather and technical problems) to fulfil their quest.

I suppose those qualities still endure all these years on, even if the event happened so long ago and is extremely unlikely to ever be repeated.

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