Airbus's Perlan 2 glider flew higher than ever before this week as it ramps up for its attempt to break the high altitude glider record later this year. With test pilots Jim Payne, Morgan Sandercock, Tim Gardner, and Miguel Iturmendi aboard, the two-person pressurized sailplane made a series of free flights over El Calafate, Argentina, where it reached a maximum altitude of 32,500 ft (9,900 m).

The Perlan 2 is an engineless glider designed to break the previous high-altitude record of 50,727 ft (15,416 m) set in 2006 by Einar Enevoldsen and Steve Fossett in Perlan 1. The eventual goal is to be the first engineless fixed-wing aircraft to reach the edge of space at 62 mi (100 km).

To achieve these goals, Perlan 2 has an ultralight construction of only 1,100 lb (500 kg) when empty and a wingspan of 84 ft (27 m) as well as an oxygen breathing system and an emergency recovery parachute. After making initial test flights over Oregon and Nevada, the project moved to Argentina in 2016

The new season of tests will take advantage of the confluence of Andean winds and the southern polar vortex in the south of Patagonia that generate the world's highest "stratospheric mountain waves," with updrafts potentially capable of sending Perlan 2 to the edge of space.

According to Airbus, the next two months will see the Perlan team try to exceed the 2006 altitude record while collecting scientific data about the atmosphere and high-altitude radiation exposure. Because Perlan 2 has no engine, yet is capable of controlled flight, it has the advantage over both aircraft and balloons in that it can take air samples with less chance of contamination while remaining in a desired location.

"As demand for air travel rises, and we are faced with questions about how to safely and more efficiently transport a growing population, the insights that Airbus Perlan Mission II will be collecting are invaluable," says Allan McArtor, Chairman of Airbus Americas. "Perlan's discoveries will help us shape the future of aerospace with innovations related to design and engineering, more efficient air travel and even aviation science related to travel on Mars."

Source: Airbus View gallery - 2 images