In an ambitious attempt to break every wing-borne sustained flight height record for a manned aircraft, the Perlan ll project intends to construct and fly a glider higher than any sailplane has gone before. Riding on the colossal stratospheric air waves generated over mountains, the team plans to fly their craft to more than 90,000 ft (27,000 m), which will shatter their own existing glider altitude record of 50,671 ft (15,400 m) set by Perlan l in 2008.
Former NASA test pilot, and now founder and CEO of the project, Einar Enevoldson, is basing the project's anticipated flight success on evidence he has collected over many years as a high-altitude pilot on a weather phenomenon known as stratospheric mountain waves. These mountain waves are ultra-strong airstreams that collide with the tops of tall mountain ranges like the Andes and are redirected straight up, creating great waves of air that a glider could potentially use to ride up towards the edge of space.
UPGRADE TO NEW ATLAS PLUS
More than 1,500 New Atlas Plus subscribers directly support our journalism, and get access to our premium ad-free site and email newsletter. Join them for just US$19 a year.UPGRADE
Enevoldson sought to prove this phenomenon, and in 1998 – in conjunction with meteorologist Dr. Elizabeth Austin – verified his assertions and discovered that it is two phenomena known as the stratospheric polar night jet and the polar vortex that create and sustain these mountain waves all the way up to an altitude of 130,000 feet (39,624 meters). Enlisting the financial help of the late adventurer Steve Fossett in his first attempt to exploit these powerful stratospheric air currents, Fossett and Enevoldson piloted the glider Perlan I to shatter the altitude record for gliders by ascending to 50,671 feet (15,460m) in 2006.
Now Enevoldson wants to completely blow away his own record by taking Perlan ll up to a height of over 90,000 ft (27,000 m) using these very same air currents. This time he plans to use a pressurized cockpit (the original Perlan l didn't have one, and the pressure suits that Enevoldson and Fossett wore weren't up to the task) and a small-windowed cabin so that he can get as close to the edge of space as possible.
Originally unsuccessfully floated on Indiegogo in 2013, the project was in danger of stalling until the the Airbus Group saw the merits and opportunities of Perlan ll, and have now partnered with them to provide technical and financial support for the project. Airbus announced their intentions at this year’s EAA AirVenture Oshkosh fly-in.
"After a thorough evaluation of the engineering and scientific planning behind the Perlan Project, Airbus Group is convinced that this important mission will be a success," said Jean Botti, Airbus Group's chief technical officer. "We believe it is critically important for us to advance climate sciences and aerodynamic research. With the Airbus Perlan II mission we particularly see an opportunity to gain experience and data related to very high altitude flight – an area of interest for future aerospace applications."
Currently being constructed in carbon fiber, the Perlan ll will have a claimed wingspan of 84 ft (25 m) and designed to fly near transonic speeds if it is to maintain adequate lift in the thin air of the stratosphere. As such, the team also says that the glider will contain life support systems – including oxygen tanks, CO2 scrubbers and rebreather systems – and an airframe capable of sustaining heavy transient shock waves, whilst being both rigid and light.
All going to plan, the Perlan ll will also conduct high-level aerodynamic and other scientific research when it is launched, which at this stage is slated for sometime in 2016.
The video below shows the Perlan ll project's original project launch video.
Source: Perlan Project