Perlan 2 space glider sets new altitude record

The carbon fiber and fiberglass glider reached a record height of 62,000 ft, and is designed to soar up to 90,000 ft.

Airbus (Toulouse, France) Perlan Mission II, the world’s first initiative to pilot an engineless aircraft to the edge of space, set a new gliding altitude world record – pending official validation. The pressurized glider soared in the stratosphere on Aug. 27 over El Calafate, Argentina to a pressure altitude of over 62,000 ft (60,669 ft GPS altitude).

The pressurized Perlan 2 glider, which is designed to soar up to 90,000 ft, passed the Armstrong Line, the point in the atmosphere above which an unprotected human’s blood will boil if an aircraft loses pressurization. This marks a second glider altitude world record for Perlan Project pilots Jim Payne and Morgan Sandercock.

The Perlan 2 glider incorporates a number of innovations to enable its mission:

  • A carbon-fiber capsule with a high-efficiency, passive cabin pressurization system that eliminates the need for heavy, power-hungry compressors.
  • A closed-loop rebreather system, in which the only oxygen used is what the crew metabolizes. 
  • An onboard “wave visualization system” that graphically displays areas of rising and sinking air in cockpits. 

Perlan 2 was towed to the base of the stratosphere by a Grob Egrett G520 turboprop, a high-altitude reconnaissance plane that was modified for the task earlier this summer. To soar into the highest areas of Earth’s atmosphere, Perlan 2 pilots catch a ride on stratospheric mountain waves, a weather phenomenon created when rising air currents behind mountain ranges are significantly strengthened by the polar vortex. The phenomenon occurs only for a brief period each year in just a few places on earth. Nestled within the Andes Mountains in Argentina, the area around El Calafate is one of those rare locations where these rising air currents can reach to 100,000 ft or more.

Unlike powered research aircraft, Perlan 2 does not affect the temperature or chemistry of the air around it, making it an ideal platform to study the atmosphere. The experiments carried aloft in its instrument bay are yielding new discoveries related to high-altitude flight, weather and climate change. The Perlan 2 will continue to pursue higher altitude flights and conduct research in the stratosphere as weather and winds permit through the middle of September.