It’s called the Perlan 2, after the record-setting glider that billionaire Steve Fossett and a copilot took to a glider record of 50,722 feet back in 1996. The crew behind the Airbus-designed Perlan 2, however, isn’t interested in re-setting the glider record. They’re going for the overall record, and they’re doing it without any sort of engine (electric or otherwise).
You read that right: Airbus believes they’ll be able to ride warm air currents all the way up to an altitude of 90,000 feet- that’s nearly a mile higher than the 85,000 ft. reached by the legendary SR-71 Blackbird!
The plane’s designers are planning to make use of a phenomenon called “wave lift”, which are currents created by fast, high-level winds passing over a mountain range. The mountains push the air up higher and higher, and could be enough- it’s thought- to put the Perlan 2 into Earth’s ozone layer, where (it’s hoped) it will be able take samples and gather significant information about what’s really going on up there.
If that sounds dangerous, that’s because it is. Those extreme altitudes mean the Airbus Perlan 2’s crew will face some pretty extreme conditions- not the least of which will be cold and oxygen deprivation at the edge of space. The glider’s cabin is pressurized to keep the pilots alive, but if that system fails there is a drogue parachute (I had to look it up, too) that deploys from the tail of the Perlan 2 that will force a rapid, vertical descent. A more traditional ballistic recovery parachute can deploy at lower altitudes to bring the entire plane to the ground safely with minimal pilot intervention.
Airbus and the other companies supporting the Perlan crew will take aim at the record in Argentina early next year. Good luck, guys!
Airbus Perlan 2 First Flight
Source | Images: Wired Autopia.