The U2 spyplane can fly at an altitude of 70,000 feet. The glider pictured above is built go soar at 90,000 feet.. for science! Here's everything we know about the Perlan Mission II.
Flight Club is out at the EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin where Airbus CEO Tom Enders announced Perlan Mission II, which intends to set new altitude records by flying a purpose-built pressurized high-altitude glider higher than any other manned wing-borne aircraft has ever flown in sustained flight using stratospheric mountain waves and the polar vortex, and in so doing harvest invaluable data about earth's atmosphere and its ozone layer.
Tom Enders, CEO of Airbus Group, stated:
"Our company is built on the shoulders of aviation pioneers who pushed boundaries in their own times – people who flew higher, farther, faster. Hence,when we learned of the Perlan Project and its quest to soar to record heights, we knew we needed to find a way to be a part of it. Partnering with the Perlan team is consistent with our core values of furthering innovation in aerospace and of inspiring the next generation of designers, manufacturers and aviators."
Record-setting test pilot Einar Enevoldson
From 1992-98, Perlan's founder and NASA test pilot Einar Enevoldson collected evidence on a weather phenomenon that no one at the time even knew existed: stratospheric mountain waves. Like huge ocean waves, these waves of air are kicked off by strong winds blowing over the tops of high mountain ranges like the Andes. These waves of air then shoot straight up towards space. As a pilot, Einar quickly figured out that you can use a glider to ride those waves all the way up to near space. And he set out to prove it. This became The Perlan Project.
The first Perlan Project was funded by record-setting aviator and adventurer Steve Fossett, who joined he project after hearing about it in 1999. Envoldson flew with Fossett in 2006 and set the existing glider altitude record, at 50,671 feet. They could have gone even higher, however the pressure inside their suits was so high, it began to restrain their movement, so they had no other choice than to descend. They were determined to return to the project, in a glider with a pressurized cabin. Along with meteorologist Dr. Elizabeth Austin, the Perlan project was studying the Polar Vortex as far back as 1998, before it was ever a buzzword on the Weather Channel.
Unfortunately, Fossett died in a plane crash in the Sierra Nevadas on September 3, 2007. The project lost its funding as a result, until Airbus came along in this new partnership.
Top image - full scale engineering mockup of the Perlan II glider cockpit.
Photos by Paul Thompson, who was in attendance for the Airbus press conference at Oshkosh.