This stunning picture shows the view from the Airbus Perlan Mission II as it set its third world record in a week, this time reaching a height of 76,124 ft to surpass the highest altitude recorded for the U-2 spy plane.
The new pressure altitude record puts the Perlan 2 glider well on the way to reaching its goal of 90,000ft and is a significant increase on the 65,600 ft level reached on August 28.
The September 2 flight over Argentina’s El Calafate mountains by pilots Jim Payne and Tim Gardner surpasses the maximum recorded altitude in level flight of the U.S. Air Force’s famous U-2 Dragon Lady reconnaissance aircraft.
It is now less than 10,000 ft away from the overall record for level flight of manned aircraft: 85,069ft held by the SR-71 Blackbird.
The Perlan 2 is engineless, weighs just 1,500 pounds, and soars to its record altitudes on massive “mountain waves”, rare air currents reaching the stratosphere and formed at certain times of the year by mountain winds combining with the Polar Vortex.
Flights this year for the first time used a special high-altitude tow plane, a Grob Egrett G520 reconnaissance aircraft, which released at the glider at 42,000 ft — roughly equivalent to the service ceiling of an Airbus A380.
Favorable conditions saw the Payne and Morgan Sandercock soar to more than 63,100 feet, besting the record of 54,000 feet set by Airbus Perlan Mission II on Sept. 3, 2017.
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That record fell on April 28 as Payne Miguel Iturmendi reached the pressure altitude of 65,600 ft.
“World records are gratifying evidence of progress toward a goal, but the goal itself is advancing our knowledge and expertise,” said Airbus chief executive Tom Enders.
“By exploring an underexplored part of the atmosphere, Perlan is teaching us about efficient high-altitude flight, about detecting natural sources of lift and avoiding turbulence, and even about the viability of wing-borne exploration of Mars.
“As a company that makes not just airliners but also high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles such as Zephyr as well as the Mars rover robotic vehicle, every Perlan flight is an investment in our future.”
The mission will continue flying until mid-September and viewers can follow the flights live on the Airbus Perlan Mission II Virtual Cockpit: http://bit.ly/VirtualPerlan2.
The Virtual Cockpit shows the glider’s altitude, airspeed, remaining oxygen, map position, and even live streaming video from a camera in the tail when the aircraft is in range.