I was recently invited to join a humanitarian mission onboard a National Airlines B747 cargo plane, to deliver medical cargo aids to Pakistan and Nepal. It was an amazing thrill to fly on the Boeing 747 into Kathmandu, which is well known as a difficult airport to land into. It was also a new experience to be onboard a cargo plane for over 40 hours, truly feeling like "an airplane man".

National Airlines Himalayas Cargo Mission
National Airlines Himalayas Cargo Mission

The flight originated from the USA, carrying nearly 80 tons of USAid which was destined for Pakistan and Nepal. I joined the flight at Frankfurt Hahn Airport, serving as a refuelling and crew change point.

The National Airlines B747-400BCF arriving at Frankfurt Hahn Airport.
I boarded the fully loaded B747 at Frankfurt. Over 37 pallets and nearly 80 tons of cargo from USAid.
2 co-pilots posed for a photo before the flight. We have 4 crew flying from Frankfurt all the way to Seoul Incheon with stops at Islamabad and Kathmandu
2 co-pilots posed for a photo before the flight. We had 4 crew flying from Frankfurt all the way to Seoul Incheon, with stops at Islamabad and Kathmandu.
The APU getting serviced before the start of the mission.
Night time takeoff out of Frankfurt Hahn

I immediately went to sleep after the 23:00 take-off. The First leg from Frankfurt Hahn to Islamabad was 6.5 hours. On the upper deck of the B747-400BCF there was a large flat ground area, were you could set up as your own pad with a pillow and a sleeping bag. The space was great, better than most of the current Business Class cubical seats!

Arriving at Islamabad, the First Officer landing the plane.
Within minutes of arrival, the cargo loading process started.
A total of 13 cargo pallets from main deck and lower deck, destined for Islamabad.
An appreciative photo from the DNATA ground handler in Islamabad.

Video of the Cargo Mission

We were on the ground at Islamabad about 2 hours. Once we received ATC clearance, we're off on our way to Kathmandu; this was to be the most exciting part of the trip. A Kathmandu descent is much steeper than the usual 3 degrees glideslope; it also requires all the breaks an aircraft has to come to a full stop at the end of the runway in Kathmandu, due to the high altitude. There is only one way into Kathmandu, as the city is situated inside a valley and is surrounded by high terrain on 3 sides. We were even able to catch a glimpse of Mount Everest, from a distance, before we began our descent.

Our B747 landing into Kathmandu was a thriller! After passing through the last clouds, the entire Kathmandu valley came into sight.
Captain Jose Rodriguez and the entire crew went through many hours of simulator training before landing in Kathmandu.
The B747 made a full stop landing just before at the end of the runway.
One of many cargo pallets destined to help the people of Nepal to fight the pandemic.
Our crew with the ground handler in Kathmandu.

What a great privilege to be a part of the team that was sending these much-needed supplies around the world; it has an honour to document the goings on behind the scenes of such a mission!

I flew on from Kathmandu to Incheon, where the next crew came onboard; we then continued the ferry flight to Shanghai Pudong, were we loaded up with more cargo before heading back to the US.

I felt like “an airplane man” staying inside a B747 for 40 hours from dark to light to dark again! This was just 2 regular days in the shoes of a charter cargo crews life! Certainly a very different experience to that on a passenger airline.

Our B747 was emptied in Kathmandu.

Video of the Cargo Mission