Airbus took its Perlan 2 glider to the highest altitude ever recorded for an engine-less aircraft, at 62,000ft. This makes pilots Jim Payne and Morgan Sandercock the first to reach the Armstrong line (59,000-62,000ft) in a glider.
To get it to this height, the project used a special high-altitude tow plane, rather than a conventional glider tow plane. Perlan 2 was towed to the base of the stratosphere, at around 42,000ft, by a Grob Egrett G520 turboprop, a high-altitude reconnaissance airplane that was modified for the task earlier this summer.
From there, the glider makes use of stratospheric mountain waves, which only occur for a brief period each year in just a few places on Earth. One such location is El Calafate, in the Andes Mountains in Argentina.
To ensure that the pilots remain safe at this height, Airbus took a number of technical measures. At the Armstrong line, where an unprotected human’s fluids will boil, reliable pressurization and air supply is needed. Therefore, a carbon-fiber capsule was used with a unique high-efficiency, passive cabin pressurization system that eliminates the need for heavy, power-hungry compressors.
Perlan 2 also features a closed-loop rebreather system, in which the only oxygen used is what the crew metabolizes. Airbus claims it is the lightest and most efficient system for a sealed cabin, and that its design has applications for other high-altitude aircraft.
Perlan 2 was featured in the November 2015 issue of Aerospace Testing International magazine. Click here to learn more.