PERLAN GLIDER REACHES NEW HEIGHTS
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.