The glider gurus striving to go where no-one has gone before have set a new world altitude record for engineless flights above the snow-capped peaks of the Andes Mountains in Argentina.
While the Perlan Mission II composite glider didn’t reach a 90,000ft altitude target that would have put it on the edge of space, it topped 52,000ft to set a new record for gliding.
The previous world altitude record for a glider of 50,772ft was set in 2006 by the Perlan 1 glider, now on display at the Seattle Museum of Flight, flown by the late Steve Fossett and Einar Enevoldson.
The latest record of 52,172ft was achieved September 3 by surfing rare stratospheric mountain waves — strong updrafts capable of reaching the edge of space — that only occur for brief periods at certain times in a few places on Earth.
Chief pilot Jim Payne and co-pilot Morgan Sandercock completed the flight from Comandante Armando Tola International Airport in El Calafate, Argentina. Patagonia’s El Calafate is one of those rare places where mountain waves, fed by the polar vortex, occur.
However, the attempt to set a new record was not the only function of the pressurised glider. It also carried with it flight experiments looking at subjects as diverse as climate change to how radiation affects pilots and aircraft at high altitudes.
Perlan Project chief executive Ed Warnock described the new record as a victory for aerospace innovation and scientific discovery. He vowed the attempt to reach the edge of the final frontier would continue.
“We will continue to strive for even higher altitudes, and to continue our scientific experiments to explore the mysteries of the stratosphere,’’ he said. “We’ve made history, but the learning has just begun.”
European aerospace giant Airbus, which has supported this and previous Perlan missions, said the record was the result of bold thinking.
“With every Airbus Perlan Mission II milestone, we continue to learn more about how we can fly higher, faster and cleaner,’’ Airbus chief executive Tom Enders said in a statement.
“But we also learn that aviation still has the power to surprise us, thrill us, and motivate us to find new frontiers of endeavor.”