Aeroplane story

The Manchester aeroplane which has twice in the last week essayed a landing on Helvellyn, to be driven back twice by unfavourable weather – first by fog and then by a gale, – yesterday achieved its aim and perched for a while on the very summit of the mountain. The aeroplane was piloted, under dual control, by Mr. Bert Hinkler, the well-known test pilot, and by Mr. J. Leeming, the Manchester aviator, by whom the enterprise was originally planned.

Related: Helvellyn from the air: GNM Archive teaching resource July 2015

Yesterday’s flight, when it was generally understood that the attempt had been indefinitely postponed, came as a surprise; the two airmen set out from Lancaster without declaring their intentions, and were fortunate in the circumstances not only in making their landing on the mountain, but in finding an unexpected witness to their achievement waiting to receive them.

Plans had been made for the first attempt a week ago, under which prepared landing places would be marked out and fires lit to give the airmen a key to the wind. On landing the airmen were to find an organised welcome. But under the surprise conditions of yesterday’s flight there was no one on the mountain by pre-arrangement. It happened, however, that a professor of Greek from Birmingham University was climbing Helvellyn yesterday for his own amusement; he had reached the summit just about the time that the aeroplane arrived – at 1 35 pm, – and its pilots secured from him a certificate of the success of their enterprise. The certificate thus given by Professor E. R. Dodds, and brought back by the aeroplane, was in the following terms:

I hereby certify that an aeroplane – GEBPH, pilots Bert Hinkler and John Leeming – landed on the summit of Helvellyn on December 22, 1926.

The first attempt to make a landing on Helvellyn, which was undertaken to show the adaptability of modern aircraft and the possibility of landing in strange places, was made on Wednesday of last week. Two aeroplanes were engaged, one flown by Mr. Leeming and the other by Mr. Hinkler, but they were driven back by fog before reaching Helvellyn. The day before yesterday the two pilots again started from the Woodford aerodrome in Cheshire in one Avro-Gosport machine, with dual control, but only a reconnaissance flight was made, and, having trouble with plugs, the airmen stayed the night at Lancaster. It was from Lancaster that the successful attempt on Helvellyn was made yesterday morning, and it was made without warning, in case the weather should interfere and the light prove a disappointment.

Original Test Surpassed
In the circumstances the flight might be described as something more of a success in what it set out to do than if the first flight had been completed. The first flight would have established the ability of the aeroplane to land on a mountain side, but it would have been on ground which had been to some extent prepared, and on which danger points had been marked out.

Brink of a Precipice
The landing itself seems to have been a fairly peaceful and comforting experience. It was made on higher ground than had been marked out, because there seemed no difficulty in coming down on the summit. And after circling three times in a descending spiral over the mountain the aeroplane came to the ground at a distance which Mr Leeming puts at 20 or 30 yards from the edge of the Striding Edge precipice.

Brought to a standstill, it threatened to run back down the hill – a danger averted by the engine being kept running on a fairly full throttle until Mr Leeming could jump out and find stones to put behind the wheels. After about twenty minutes’ chat with Professor Dodds, securing his written witness to the landing, and taking a few photographs, the airmen took off over Striding Edge about the point where it directly overlooks Red Tarn, taxi-ing up the hill with difficulty, but gaining flying speed just in time to see their machine over the precipice. They returned to Windermere, where the need for petrol brought them down in a field, and were back at the Woodford aerodrome in the early evening.

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