Airbus' Perlan 2 glider is continuing to push the limits of engineless flight, hitting a succession of record altitudes throughout the last week, culminating in a unprecedented 76,000-ft (23,000-m) climb on Sunday.

The overarching objective of the Perlan project is to harness what are known as stratospheric mountain waves to soar upwards to the edge of space without using an engine. These powerful airstreams are created when winds collide with tall mountain ranges and are diverted upwards.

The Perlan 2 engineless glider is built to leverage these waves with an ultralight construction that tips the scales at just 1,100 lb (500 kg) when empty, and a generous wingspan of 84 ft (27 m). Following its maiden flight in Oregon in 2015, when it reached an altitude of 5,000 ft (1,524 m) after being released from its towplane, the team promptly set its sights on far, far greater heights.

That meant relocating to the mighty Andes mountain range in Argentina, where the winds receive a welcome boost from the southern polar vortex to generate the world's highest stratospheric mountain waves. There, the glider hit 32,500 ft (9,900 m) in August last year and then 52,000 ft (15,800 m) a month later.

The ultimate goal is for the aircraft to reach 90,000 ft (27,400 m), and over the last week the team has edged ever closer to the mark. The Perlan 2 first crossed the Armstrong line and hit 62,000 ft (19,000 m) on August 26, followed by a 65,605-ft (19,996-m) effort on August 28.

Then on September 2, Perlan pilots Jim Payne and Tim Gardner strapped themselves in and rode the glider to an altitude of 76,000 ft (23,000 m), setting a new flight record. This is higher than Lockheed Martin's jet-powered U2 spy plane flown by the CIA, which reached 73,700 ft (22,475 m), and places it amongst a handful of manned aircraft to sustain flight at such as altitude.

You can see the view from the Perlan 2 as it soars 65,000 ft above the Andes in the video below.

View gallery - 13 images