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Here’s what it takes to fly a drone on Mount Everest

Here’s what it takes to fly a drone on Mount Everest


“What are these giant plates for?” I asked.

“No one here has any idea,” Shaw said. “We just guessed it. This chamber is a child of the Cold War. What we do know is that it was built for a big aerospace company. “

Shaw explained that within minutes it could depressurize the interior of that chamber with an equivalent atmospheric pressure of 85,000 meters above sea level and cool it to -100 degrees Fahrenheit. The walls had to be made of solid foot-high steel so that the chamber would not explode. In other words, despite sitting on a concrete slab in Southern California, the drone could at least mimic the conditions it would face on Everest in terms of temperature and atmospheric pressure.

“By the way,” Shaw said, “I still don’t know what you’re guys doing.”

“We want to fly a drone to the top of Mount Everest,” I told him.

“Really? Well, you’ve come to the right place. “

Shaw gestured for me to continue to the back of the room. Here, on a concrete slab, sat several pieces of heavy machinery. There was a boiler used to pump the steam, a cooling unit and two giant vacuum pumps connected to the back of the chamber with four-inch rusty tubes.

As the pumps absorbed the air from the chamber, the numerical screen that recorded the barometric pressure began to move downward. Renan and I looked through the hole in Rudy’s shoulder as he worked on the joystick on the controller like a teenager looking for a high score Grand Theft Auto. The drone, located 18 inches from the floor of the attic, made a sharp turn from side to side and struck against its cords like an angry dog. When the marker hit 11.61 inHg – the equivalent of 24,000 meters above sea level – the drone went into a death thrill and flipped upside down. The propellers hit the metal floor and exploded, throwing pieces of black plastic like shrapnel into the air. Inspire 2 was hanging on its back like a wounded animal.

“Shut up!” cried Renan.

The test only took three or four minutes, but in that short time Rudy pushed the drone as hard as he wanted. “I knew he had a lot of impulses, that was the main thing that worried me,” Rudy said.

“Why did it crash?” I asked.

“I’m not entirely sure,” he replied.

The good news was that the drone made it 24,000 feet before it crashed. He was the tallest Rudy and Renan who has ever flown. The bad news was the drone only It climbed to 24,000 feet – below the height of 4,000 meters of hidden GPS coordinates, we hoped to find the long-lost traces of Sandy Irvine. And perhaps, perhaps, the ancient camera that can rewrite the history of the world’s highest mountain.


Since Third Pole: Mystery, Obsession, and Death on Mount Everest Mark Synnott’s permission for Dutton, a remnant of the Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Mark Synnott.


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