The Airbus-sponsored Perlan 2 glider—billed as the world’s first engineless aircraft designed to reach the edge of space—is on its way by sea to Argentina. The disassembled craft left its test base at Minden, Nevada in early July. Flights in Argentina are due to get under way in August.
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.
The Airbus Perlan Mission II team is relocating its operations to the Patagonia area of Argentina, where conditions will allow the team to begin higher-altitude flights that will ultimately take them as high as 90,000ft (27,432m).
The glider’s true flight speed at that altitude will be more than 400 mph (644km/h) 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.
The aircraft, which has a gross weight of 1,800 pounds and a wing span of 84 feet, was developed by The Perlan Project, a volunteer-run, non-profit endeavour headed by leaders in aerospace and engineering. It is supported by Airbus Group and a group of other sponsors that includes Weather Extreme Ltd., United Technologies and BRS Aerospace.
Glider pilots have surfed on mountain waves since the 1930s. The process is like surfing on a wave in the ocean, except the glider is in the wave rather than on the surface of the wave. More recently it has been discovered that the Polar Vortex, and one of its principal components, the stratospheric polar night jet, provide the high-speed wind in the stratosphere that powers incredibly high waves.