Airbus Perlan Mission II, the world’s first
initiative to pilot an engineless aircraft to the edge of space,
made history again on Sunday in El Calafate, Argentina, by soaring
in the stratosphere to a pressure altitude of over 62,000 feet
(60,669 feet GPS altitude). This sets a new gliding altitude world
record, pending official validation.
The pressurized Perlan 2 glider, which is
designed to soar up to 90,000 feet, passed the Armstrong Line, the
point in the atmosphere above which an unprotected human’s blood
will boil if an aircraft loses pressurization.
This marks a second glider altitude world record
for Jim Payne and Morgan Sandercock, the same two Perlan Project
pilots who soared the Perlan 2 to 52,221 feet GPS altitude on
3 September 2017, in the same remote region of Argentine Patagonia.
The 2017 record broke a previous record that was set in 2006, in
the unpressurized Perlan 1, by Perlan Project founder Einar
Enevoldson and Steve Fossett.
“This is a tremendous moment for all the
volunteers and sponsors of Airbus Perlan Mission II who have been
so dedicated to making our nonprofit aerospace initiative a
reality,” said Ed Warnock, CEA of The Perlan Project. “Our victory
today, and whatever other milestones we achieve this year, are a
testament to a pioneering spirit of exploration that runs through
everyone on the project and through the organizations that support
Another first-of-its kind achievement this year
for the Perlan Project was the use of a special high-altitude tow
plane rather than a conventional glider tow plane. During
Sunday’s flight, Perlan 2 was towed to the base of the
stratosphere by a Grob Egrett G520 turboprop, a high-altitude
reconnaissance plane that was modified for the task earlier this
summer. Operated by AV Experts, LLC, and flown by chief pilot Arne
Vasenden, the Egrett released Perlan 2 at around 42,000 feet, the
approximate service ceiling of an Airbus A380.
To soar into the highest areas of Earth’s
atmosphere, Perlan 2 pilots catch a ride on stratospheric mountain
waves, a weather phenomenon created when rising air currents
behind mountain ranges are significantly strengthened by the polar
vortex. The phenomenon occurs only for a brief period each year in
just a few places on earth. Nestled within the Andes Mountains in
Argentina, the area around El Calafate is one of those rare
locations where these rising air currents can reach to 100,000
feet or more.
Built in Oregon and home-based in Minden,
Nevada, the Perlan 2 glider incorporates a number of unique
innovations to enable its ambitious mission:
A carbon-fiber capsule with an unique
high-efficiency, passive cabin pressurization system that
eliminates the need for heavy, power-hungry compressors.
An unique closed-loop rebreather system, in which
the only oxygen used is what the crew metabolizes. It is the
lightest and most efficient system for a sealed cabin, and its
design has applications for other high-altitude aircraft.
An onboard “wave visualization system” that
graphically displays areas of rising and sinking air in cockpits.
For commercial flights, following lines of rising air would allow
faster climbs and save fuel, while also helping aircraft avoid
dangerous phenomena such as wind shear and severe downdrafts.
Unlike powered research aircraft, Perlan 2 does
not affect the temperature or chemistry of the air around it,
making it an ideal platform to study the atmosphere. The
experiments carried aloft in its instrument bay are yielding new
discoveries related to high-altitude flight, weather and climate
This season, Perlan 2 is flying with experiments
developed by The Perlan Project’s science and research committee,
as well as projects created in collaboration with organizations
and schools in the U.S. and Argentina. Perlan 2 research projects
- An experiment measuring radiation effects at
high altitudes, designed by students from Cazenovia Central School
& Ashford School in Connecticut. This project is in coordination
with Teachers in Space, Inc., a nonprofit educational organization
that stimulates student interest in science, technology,
engineering and mathematics;
- A flight data recorder, developed by
Argentina’s Instituto de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas
para la Defensa (CITEDEF);
- A second flight data recorder, designed by
students at Argentina’s La Universidad Tecnológica Nacional (UTN);
- A space weather (radiation) instrument;
- An experiment titled “Marshmallows in Space,”
developed by the Oregon Museum of Science & Discovery to teach the
scientific process to preschoolers.
- Two new environmental sensors, developed by
The Perlan Project.
“Innovation is a buzzword in aerospace today,
but Perlan truly embodies the kind of bold thinking and creativity
that are core Airbus values,” said Tom Enders, Airbus CEO.
“Perlan Project is achieving the seemingly impossible, and our
support for this endeavor sends a message to our employees,
suppliers and competitors that we will not settle for being
anything less than extraordinary.”
The Perlan 2 will continue to pursue higher
altitude flights and conduct research in the stratosphere as
weather and winds permit through the middle of September.
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