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Next stop for the Perlan 2 Glider: The edge of space

If all goes well, Perlan's engineers plan to push the limits even further, to 100,000 feet, by 2019.

By Brooks Hays
Next stop for the Perlan 2 Glider: The edge of space
The Perlan 2 Glider takes its first test flight. Photo by Airbus/Perlan Project

REDMOND, Ore., Sept. 24 (UPI) -- If you're planning a trip to the edge of space, you might think it prudent to bring along an engine. But you're not an engineer on the Airbus-sponsored Perlan Project.

On Wednesday, the Perlan 2 Glider completed its first test flight above Roberts Field in Redmond, Oregon. The glider was pulled into the air by a small prop plane before being allowed to fly solo at an altitude of 5,000 feet.

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"We're extremely excited about the successful first flight of the Perlan 2 glider," Ed Warnock, CEO of the Perlan Project, said in a released statement. "This marks a major breakthrough in aviation innovation, one that will allow winged exploration of the atmosphere at the edge of space and lead to new discoveries to unravel some of the continuing mysteries of weather, climate change and ozone depletion."

By the end of next year, Perlan's pilots aim to ascend to 90,000 feet -- the edge of space and a new record.

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That flight won't be over Oregon, but Patagonia, where Perlan and its handlers will attempt to harness the power of massive stratospheric waves, riding them to the limits of the atmosphere.

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Stratospheric mountain waves are the result of updrafts, which having ascended the face of a mountain get a boost from fast-moving polar vortex winds. The pressurized glider -- made entirely of composite materials -- and its pilots aim to ride these waves like a surfer.

Stratospheric mountain waves were mostly just a theory, until an earlier version of the Perlan glider set an engineless altitude record of 50,722 feet, in 1996. Commercial jetliners fly at approximately 35,000 feet. Above 65,000 feet, a pressurized suit is needed to prevent organ damage.

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Perlan 2 Glider will undergo several more flight tests before its ultimate feat. If all goes well, Perlan's engineers plan to push the limits even further, to 100,000 feet, by 2019.

"Airbus Perlan Mission II is a historic endeavour in the truest spirit of aviation's earliest pioneers," said Tom Enders, CEO of Airbus Group. "The knowledge gained from this project will impact how the world understands and addresses climate change. But it will also help Airbus continue to innovate ways to fly higher, faster and cleaner, on Earth and possibly beyond."

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