Flying - - Sky Next -

The Air­bus Perlan 2 glider has reached a new high, break­ing the world record for a non­pow­ered flight as it soared to 52,172 feet. The pre­vi­ous record was set in 2006 by the first ver­sion of the Perlan, which reached 50,727 feet with the Perlan Project’s founder Ei­nar Enevold­son and lead project spon­sor Steve Fos­sett at the con­trols. An Aero Bo­ero AB-180 tow­plane pulled Perlan’s chief pi­lot Jim Payne and copi­lot Mor­gan San­der­cock off the ground at Co­man­dante Ar­mando Tola In­ter­na­tional Air­port, which sits at an el­e­va­tion of 669 feet in El Calafate, Ar­gentina. The area around El Calafate is one of only a few places on Earth where moun­tain waves com­bine with a high-al­ti­tude po­lar vor­tex — a phe­nom­e­non crit­i­cal to pro­vid­ing enough lift to take a glider into the strato­sphere. The Perlan team also con­ducts test flights in the Sierra Ne­vada moun­tain range on the bor­der be­tween California and Ne­vada, where an over­lap can oc­cur. James Darcy, a spokesman for Perlan spon­sor Air­bus, said there are only cer­tain times of the year when over­lap con­di­tions are pos­si­ble, and dur­ing those sea­sons, only a few days pro­duce flight con­di­tions for a strato­spheric flight. Dur­ing the morn­ing of the record flight, analy­ses by Perlan’s ground crew, which uses data from weather bal­loons and me­te­o­rol­o­gists, did not in­di­cate record con­di­tions. How­ever, the pi­lots thought oth­er­wise. The glider was re­leased, and moun­tain waves car­ried the Perlan 2 to ap­prox­i­mately 40,000 feet. While the po­lar vor­tex did not quite over­lap with the moun­tain waves, Darcy said, the glider was close enough that the pi­lots could re­di­rect it to an area where they could con­tinue to gain al­ti­tude. The pi­lots said the climb rate was about 300 feet per minute on av­er­age, and the record flight lasted about 6.6 hours. “We will con­tinue to strive for even higher al­ti­tudes, and to con­tinue our sci­en­tific ex­per­i­ments to ex­plore the mys­ter­ies of the strato­sphere,” said Ed Warnock, CEO of the Perlan Project. “We’ve made his­tory, but the learn­ing has just be­gun.” The ul­ti­mate goal for the Perlan team is to soar to 90,000 feet.

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