Congratulations to the Perlan II mission team, that has now flown this pressurized two-seat glider to a record-breaking 76,124 feet, by exploiting stratospheric mountain waves that are found only over southern South America at this time of the year, when they combine with the Polar Vortex. And congratulations to Airbus ceo Tom Enders, who agreed to become the main financial supporter of the Perlan project in early 2014.
The original, unpressurised Perlan I glider reached 50,671 feet in 2006, flown by test pilot and project founder Einar Enevoldson and millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett. But when Fossett died the following year, the project lost its main backer. The purpose-built Perlan II was completed and flown in the US in 2015, and this is the third year that the team has deployed to Argentina.
The official altitude record for a wingborne subsonic aircraft was previously 73,737 feet, set by a U-2C Dragon Lady spyplane in 1989. But the U-2 is still flying, in an updated and re-engined version that can fly higher, under certain conditions. The US Air Force will only say that the maximum altitude of the U-2S is “above 70,000 feet”. I was privileged to fly to 72,000 feet in a U-2S in 1995, wearing a similar pressure suit to the one flown by Perlan II pilots Jim Payne and Tim Gardner on September 2nd. You can read more about the U-2 on my other website, www.dragonladytoday.com
The ultimate goal for the Perlan II project is to reach 90,000 feet. That is 5,000 feet higher than the record set by the supersonic SR-71 Blackbird. On the way, the instruments onboard this extraordinary glider are collecting lots of “untainted scientific data”, according to Airbus.