The Perlan 2 glider, the world’s first engineless aircraft designed to reach the edge of space, achieved its successful first flight today in a historic moment about 5,000 feet above Roberts Field, the Redmond Municipal Airport in Oregon, Toulouse, France on 23 September.
This was the first test flight of the aircraft, which next year will attempt to set a new world altitude record for any airplane. The goal of this project is to open up a world of new discoveries related to high-altitude flight, climate change and space exploration.
Over the next nine months, the Perlan Project team will prepare for Airbus Perlan Mission II, which will take place in 2016 in Argentina. In this mission, the Perlan 2 glider will attempt to set a new world record for any airplane by soaring at an altitude of 90,000 feet – which is in the upper most part of Earth’s atmosphere.
In doing so, the Perlan Project will open up a world of new discoveries related to high-altitude flight, climate change and space exploration.
Jim Payne and Morgan Sandercock piloted the flight, which was the first of many for the Airbus Perlan Mission II team as it prepares to soar the aircraft to the edge of space in Argentina in 2016.
The Perlan 2 is a pressurized sailplane designed to ride air currents that, in certain mountainous regions near the north and south poles, can reach into the stratosphere. Next year’s flights are expected to reach 90,000 feet, exceeding even the altitudes achieved by the U-2 and the SR-71.
Despite having no engine, the glider’s true flight speed at that altitude will be more than 400 mph and the air density will be less than two percent of what it is at sea level. The crew will breathe pure oxygen provided by a rebreather system, similar to what astronauts use in space.
In addition to its two-person crew, the aircraft carries scientific instruments to provide new insight into climate change and our upper atmosphere. Because it lacks an engine, Perlan 2 can explore the edge of space without polluting the atmosphere it will study, opening up human knowledge on several fronts:
- Weather Forecasting – Perlan 2 will be able to directly observe important atmospheric phenomena at the highest levels of the stratosphere that impacts weather around the globe.
- Climate Change – Perlan 2 will collect and share data with atmospheric scientists worldwide to improve climate models to more accurately predict and find solutions for climate change.
- The Ozone Layer – by collecting untainted air samples from the stratosphere, Perlan 2 can measure levels of ozone-damaging chemicals and assess the health of the ozone layer.
- Future of Aviation – some high-altitude weather phenomena that Perlan 2 will encounter impact future measures needed to secure aircraft performance and safety, especially as commercial aviation strives to operate aircraft at higher altitudes.
- Future of Space Travel – Perlan 2 will operate in atmospheric conditions roughly similar to those on Mars, providing insight into how wingborne aircraft could operate above the Martian surface.