Aircraft

Record-breaking Perlan 2 glider soars ever closer to the edge of space

Record-breaking Perlan 2 glide...
The Perlan 2 glider in action during a record-breaking flight last week
The Perlan 2 glider in action during a record-breaking flight last week
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The Perlan 2 engineless glider is built to leverage what are known as stratospheric mountain waves
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The Perlan 2 engineless glider is built to leverage what are known as stratospheric mountain waves
The Perlan 2 glider in action during a record-breaking flight last week
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The Perlan 2 glider in action during a record-breaking flight last week
Airbus’ Perlan 2 glider is continuing to push the limits of engineless flight
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Airbus’ Perlan 2 glider is continuing to push the limits of engineless flight
View inside the cockpit during a record-setting flight from Airbus’ Perlan 2 glider
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View inside the cockpit during a record-setting flight from Airbus’ Perlan 2 glider
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
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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
The Perlan 2 glider has been plying its trade over the Andes mountains in Argentina
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The Perlan 2 glider has been plying its trade over the Andes mountains in Argentina
Top down view of the Perlan 2 glider
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Top down view of the Perlan 2 glider
Airbus’ Perlan 2 glider is continuing to push the limits of engineless flight
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Airbus’ Perlan 2 glider is continuing to push the limits of engineless flight
Airbus' Perlan 2 glider hit an unprecedented 76,000 ft (23,000 m) altitude on Sunday
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Airbus' Perlan 2 glider hit an unprecedented 76,000 ft (23,000 m) altitude on Sunday
The Perlan 2 glider has been plying its trade over the Andes mountains in Argentina
10/13
The Perlan 2 glider has been plying its trade over the Andes mountains in Argentina
Airbus' Perlan 2 glider hit an unprecedented 76,000 ft (23,000 m) altitude on Sunday
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Airbus' Perlan 2 glider hit an unprecedented 76,000 ft (23,000 m) altitude on Sunday
The Perlan 2 engineless glider is built to leverage what are known as stratospheric mountain waves
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The Perlan 2 engineless glider is built to leverage what are known as stratospheric mountain waves
Perlan project pilots Jim Payne and Tim Gardner enjoy the triumph of another record-breaking flight
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Perlan project pilots Jim Payne and Tim Gardner enjoy the triumph of another record-breaking flight

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.

Airbus' Perlan 2 glider hit an unprecedented 76,000 ft (23,000 m) altitude on Sunday
Airbus' Perlan 2 glider hit an unprecedented 76,000 ft (23,000 m) altitude on Sunday

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.

Perlan project pilots Jim Payne and Tim Gardner enjoy the triumph of another record-breaking flight
Perlan project pilots Jim Payne and Tim Gardner enjoy the triumph of another record-breaking flight

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.

Source: Perlan Project

Perlan 2 Highest Ever Soaring Flight Above 65,000 feet

3 comments
Rustgecko
What is the point of this development though? Is it simply to test new materials or wings or is there a long-term use for this technology?
Kpar
Rustgecko, I see this as a forerunner to unmanned, long-endurance vehicles than will remain aloft for months- to be used as relay stations for communications, aerial weather stations, with no need to use batteries and solar panels for altitude maintenance. A long glide ratio from 76,000 feet lets you go a looong way.
paul92
At the moment only balloons and rockets go this high. Scaled up, this could be the platform for high altitude experiments and earth observation. And it would return the equipment safely for reuse many times. If it can be made autonomous perhaps it would be part of communications links. Relatively cheap and reusable, little maintenance, low fuel cost.