Aircraft

Onward and very much upward after Perlan Mission II's maiden flight

Onward and very much upward af...
Perlan Mission II returns to earth after a successful maiden flight
Perlan Mission II returns to earth after a successful maiden flight
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Infographic on the Perlan Mission II aircraft
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Infographic on the Perlan Mission II aircraft
Perlan Mission II returns to earth after a successful maiden flight
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Perlan Mission II returns to earth after a successful maiden flight
Perlan Mission II was released from its towplane at an altitude of 5,000 ft
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Perlan Mission II was released from its towplane at an altitude of 5,000 ft
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The Perlan Mission II glider, which is designed to fly higher than the U-2 spy plane and SR-71 Blackbird, has made its maiden flight. The aircraft separated from its towplane at an altitude of 5,000 feet (1,524 m) above Roberts Field at Redmond Municipal Airport in Oregon, but is expected to go much higher next year when it makes a world altitude record attempt to the edge of space.

Jim Payne and Morgan Sandercock piloted the aircraft on its first flight, gliding back to the ground on wings with a span of 84 ft (25.6 m) and surface area of 263 sq ft (24.4 sq m). The 5,000-ft altitude of the maiden flight is a baby step for the aircraft, which is expected to reach 90,000 ft (27,400 m) next year when it will attempt to soar to the edge of space over Argentina.

If successful, this will not only smash the current glider world record altitude of 50,727 ft (15,460 m) set by Perlan II's predecessor, Perlan Mission I, in 2006 with Steve Fossett and Einar Enevoldson at the controls, but it will also beat the SR-71's current record-holding altitude of 85,069 ft (25,929 m). Although a number of aircraft have exceeded this altitude in zoom climbs, the SR-71 retains the "absolute altitude record" for sustained flight.

While the SR-71 achieved the record drawing power from two Pratt & Whitney J58 axial-flow turbo-jet engines, Perlan II will look to reach these dizzying heights by riding air currents over certain mountainous regions near the north and south poles that can reach into the stratosphere.

The Perlan team isn't looking to go to the edge of space just because it is there, but to aid in research into high-altitude flight, climate change and space exploration. Since the aircraft is engineless, it will reach high altitudes without polluting the atmosphere it will study in an effort to shed more light on how the stratosphere impacts global weather, the health of the ozone layer, and to collect data to improve climate models for more accurate climate change predictions.

"The knowledge gained from this project will impact how the world understands and addresses climate change," says Airbus Group Chairman and CEO, Tom Enders. "But it will also help Airbus continue to innovate ways to fly higher, faster and cleaner, on Earth and possibly beyond."

Here Enders is referring to the atmospheric conditions the aircraft will encounter at 90,000 ft, where the air density will be less than two percent of that found at sea level, requiring the aircraft to be pressurized and the pilots to breathe pure oxygen through a rebreather system similar to those used by astronauts. It will also make the atmospheric conditions similar to those found on Mars, allowing the aircraft to provide some clues as to how wingborne aircraft could handle flying over the Red Planet.

Although the Perlan Project is a volunteer-run, non-profit undertaking, alongside companies including Weather Extreme Ltd., United Technologies and BRS Aerospace, Airbus Group helps sponsor the team.

The maiden flight is the first of many to be conducted over the coming nine months as the Perlan Project team prepares for the 90,000-ft altitude attempt in July 2016.

Source: Perlan Project, Airbus Group

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5 comments
Slowburn
Keeping the same lift to weight ratio and adding an engine will allow the same altitudes without being dependent on wind and mountains.
Tony Morris
I wonder what the stall speed of the aircraft is at 90,000 ft? I suspect it will be flying very fast to maintain altitude in such thin air.
vblancer
Slowburn no offense meant but I think you missed the point entirely. The whole point is to SOAR to those levels not using engines. Use enough engine you do not even NEED wings.....we call them rockets.
The point here is to climb that high using the Earths wind currents caused both by heat rising and the wind that mountains deflect upward.
I am a private pilot and one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had was flying North along the Sierra Nevada Mountains over the edge of the Mojave Desert. Minding my own business in my Piper Cherokee and getting PASSED and left behind by a GLIDER or what is also called a sail plane. He was using what is called orthographic lift (wind deflected by the mountains) and thermal lift (air rising from heat) to not only climb but to turn that energy into forward motion by diving into the lift.
I was flying at about 120 MPH and it did not take long to lose sight of the sail plane as he was flying that much faster than I was.
I had that engine making noise and burning fuel turning that prop but the sailplane just left me behind!! We were only at about 10,000 ft. The ceiling of my Piper was just over 14,000 ft and it took a long time to get to 12,500, the highest I flew not having oxygen on board. That sail plane could have easily climbed much higher than my Piper as well.
Engine? They don't need no steenking ENGINE!!
Slowburn
A glider is a toy. A powered plane is a tool.
unklmurray
Slowburn , you must be one of "Armchair"pilots because a glider is not a "Toy" You just must not have the guts to find out the difference......I had a Hang glider,that was by comparison a "Toy" upto about 8,000 ft and the desent was so fast it tore the wings completely away and I "Freefell" about 5-6,000ft. I was ready for it but it could have gone badly but I had plenty of experience at skydiving from 10-12,000ft......as it was I lost my $9,500.00 glider...I never saw it again......I just hope it didn't hurt anyone whenever /wherever it landed......that was 20 years ago....I guess it could still be blowing around up there with your other toy gliders!!.......LOL